OURT HOUSE – “Sometimes, a washcloth changes their life,” said Alison Conley, 19, describing the joy and purpose behind Operation Christmas Child.
Founded by the Rev. Franklin Graham, in 1993, Operation Christmas Child came about because of a phone call. Graham received a call from a man, in England, asking if Graham was willing to help send gifts to children in war-torn Bosnia (http://sampur.se/3nyiEhZ).
Simple shoeboxes were filled with practical items and surprises. Churches across the U.S. and Canada contributed, and 28,000 shoeboxes arrived in Bosnia by Christmas.
Today, Samaritan’s Purse Ministries helps individuals and families across the world while earning opportunities to give the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child are led by Graham, the eldest son of the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, and his wife, Ruth.
“I’ve been involved with Operation Christmas Child for six years,” said Conley Dec. 15. Conley, the second child in her family, lives with her parents, Michael and Robin, and grew up in Cape May County, where her family’s roots run deep.
Conley loves crafting and made several quilts. She attends Atlantic Cape Community College, pursuing a Fine Arts degree. She also uses her musical abilities playing the piano to serve in the local church. The Conley family attends Revolve Church, in North Cape May.
Conley described the process of Operation Christmas Child. Shoeboxes are filled by gender and age group (2-4; 5-9; and 10-14).
“My family tends to do 10-14 girls and 2-4 boys,” Conley said.
The youngest age group of boys has a tendency “to get left out,” she added.
Items include a toothbrush, washcloth, and other personal care items – things that are taken for granted. Conley gave an example of how a group of children in an orphanage may share the same toothbrush. A “wow” item is included in each box, usually a toy, and other “fun” items.
Once the shoebox is filled, it is taken to the First United Methodist Church, in Court House, the designated collection center in Cape May County.
From there, the boxes are loaded into a truck and driven to Vineland. Once the regional collection is finished, the shoeboxes are shipped to Baltimore, Maryland.
“Operation Christmas Child allows you to make a difference in a child’s life,” Conley said.
From the final distribution center, the boxes are shipped all over the world. Conley said she heard from a boy, in Colombia. He wrote a letter to Conley, in 2018, thanking her for the gifts that arrived at his village.
Conley hopeful for the future, but her Christian faith prompts her to think beyond the scope of her life. She wants to serve others, at home and abroad.
"The purpose of Operation Christmas Child is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world,” said Denise Reardon, Operation Christmas Child coordinator, First United Methodist Church, in Court House, in a Dec. 16 phone interview. Approximately 1,181 shoeboxes were delivered.
“We are the only pick-up location in Cape May County,” Reardon said, referring to the church. She and her husband are members of the church and are lifetime residents of Cape May County. Reardon has been serving Operation Christmas Child for 20 years.
According to Reardon, the gifts are delivered to the church during the third week of November. Volunteers help sort the boxes before loading them into a truck. Reardon said 15 churches contributed across the county.
“The Boy Scouts did the heavy work,” Reardon said. She is thankful for all who volunteered.
Approximately 11 million shoeboxes were given for Operation Christmas Child, in 2020, and will be delivered to over 100 nations. According to Reardon, many gifts will arrive in “exotic” ways by American standards, i.e., camels, elephants, and canoes.
No matter what age one is or what resources one has, they can make a difference.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.