More than 15,000 shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts have begun their journey from Johnston County to other countries.
Operation Christmas Child is a yearly tradition in which people pack shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, clothes and hygiene items such as tooth brushes and combs. Each box also contains a personal note.
After volunteers fill the boxes, Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian group, ships them overseas.
On Monday, the Church at Clayton Crossings, a collection center for much of Johnston County, sent the 15,000 boxes to Charlotte, where they will be processed and then shipped to different countries. The boxes filled two and a half tractor-trailer rigs.
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Samaritan’s Purse adds a book or pamphlet about Jesus to the boxes.
“There’s always a story that children are told of Christ, and then in addition to that, many of them have the opportunity to continue in a follow-up discipleship program beyond the box,” said Susan Sykes, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child.
Often, the boxes go to missionaries for distribution, Sykes said.
“Lots of times these shoe boxes are delivered to areas that we wouldn’t be able to go otherwise,” she said. “Sometimes they’re delivered into places, orphanages where kids don’t have families at all. It’s always in a third-world country.”
In Johnston, the 15,000 boxes came from all over the county, with multiple sites feeding into the Clayton Crossings collection center. One of those sites was Beulah Hill Christian Church near Four Oaks, where Brenda Lee is the program coordinator. This year, the church collected 2,410 gift-filled shoe boxes, which Lee and other volunteers packed into large cardboard boxes, anywhere from 16 to 22 per cardboard box. The boxes then went on a flatbed truck to Clayton.
Lee said many children might not receive a gift if not for the shoe boxes.
“To be given a gift and also the opportunity to learn about the Lord and Savior, it’s just awesome,” she said.
Cindy Twigg, a youth leader at Beulah Hill, was at the church last week helping Lee and a few other volunteers load the boxes onto the truck in the cold morning. She said preparing the boxes makes her feel good.
“I just wish I could follow the boxes, see the joy on their faces,” she said.
Sykes said the boxes show children that they are loved.
“We are so blessed in our country to have the things that we have, and not just material possessions but the freedom of religion and the freedom to worship,” she said. “And there are so many people around the world that don’t have that. They don’t have a good understanding, particularly for little children, of the fact that somebody does love and care about them.”
“The toys will break, the gifts will eventually get lost, but they are precious to those children,” Sykes said. “And to know that somebody that didn’t know them loved them enough to take a few minutes, pack a shoe box filled with gifts for them, and then to open the door of understanding that there is a God that loves them.”