A group of women at Candies Creek Church have solved the age old question of how to make the Christmas spirit last beyond one month through Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child.
Each year, Operation Christmas Child takes shoeboxes full of gifts and the hope of Christmas to impoverished children around the world. National Collection week is the third week in November.
Known as the Shoebox Sisters, the Candies Creek group has been shopping clearance and after holiday deals since January to pack boxes for the November shoebox drive.
This week saw the end of one phase as the team packed up items for children ages 2 to 4.
Coordinator Jean Dunn said they hope to have 40 boxes per age group for both boys and girls. With three age groups, this means packing 240 boxes. Last year, church members donated about 85 boxes as individuals.
The idea for a group effort formed when Dunn volunteered at the regional sorting station in Atlanta. The organization of how the shoeboxes were inspected and processed was an inspiration to rally her friends to do more.
“I called one of the women who I knew was really involved with shoeboxes. She just always did a lot, and she had a friend who always did a lot,” Dunn said.
A few emails later and the Shoebox Sisters were meeting twice a month.
Starting with a list of 101 acceptable items to include, the women developed a plan for the year. In January, they focused on clearance winter hats, gloves and scarves. In February, they cleaned up on after Valentine’s sales on stuffed animals and stickers.
“We got things that had been $4 for $1,” Dunn said. “We just tried to be very intentional.”
This month it’s summer sales on balls, toys and batteries as they celebrate Christmas in July.
Creativity and sewing skills have also allowed the women to make some items for the boxes.
“We made … 100 plus marble bags from fabric scraps,” Dunn said. “Sundresses out of bandanas or pillowcases or people would give us remnants of fabric, if it was big enough for a dress we made it a dress.”
Those who could crochet made hats. They also made cloth backpacks.
“We had a lot of sewing days,” Dunn said.
The group includes a range of ages and each women plays to her strengths.
Jeanie Maxwell shopped for deals with donated money.
“I don’t sew, so I said, ‘Give me the money and I can shop,” Maxwell said.
She was also able to find and negotiate some good deals, getting an outlet stores entire stock of T-shirts for 33 cents each.
Virginia Beesley started the sewing projects. She found a simple pattern on the Internet and set to work. Beesley said she has focused on the 5 to 9 age group for her dresses.
“Every year, I’ve done between 10 and 12 boxes myself,” Beesley said. “I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Paula Missinne was in charge of inventory and storing the items.
“It’s been really great to see how everyone has found their niche,” Missinne said.
Candies Creek has given the project much needed storage space and some have made monetary or item donations.
Missinne kept track of what was bought and what was still needed. As the items have nearly maxed out the closet space given, Missine has said they have enough for now.
“They [the shoppers in the group] haven’t listened,” Missinne said.
Sierra Martin is the youngest member of the team at age 16.
“I enjoy every year doing the shoeboxes, so it was cool this year that we get to do more,” Martin said.
Sally Whitledge has sewn marble bags and will be sewing pencil bags.
“There is something about doing it as a group. Look at how much more we can do,” she said.
She said seeing how many more the women could do together was amazing.
“The fellowship between us and getting to know Sierra, the older and the younger working together is just a joy,” Whitledge said. “It’s people who you may or may not have had the opportunity to meet directly.”
Dunn said the group has also compiled a list of ways others in the church can get involved. Future plans involve a card for the Shoebox Sisters to keep in their wallets that will explain the project and OCC.
Each of the 2 to 4 year old boxes will feature a picture of some of the members with a tag “packed with love by the Candies Creek Shoebox Sisters.”
“In the older ones, we want to get our … kids to get the sheets that say ‘I’m a friend in…’ and you color in where you live in the U.S.,” Dunn said. “It would be wonderful to do pen pals.”
The group hopes to pay the shipping donation with a credit card that way the country they go to will be tracked.
Dunn said they want to have a map where they can label the areas where they boxes went
Instead of cardboard shoeboxes, the Candies Creek crew is using the plastic kind so the children will have a way to store their new prized possessions. Each plastic box will be full to capacity.
“I thought I always packed them tightly. I have learned more this year from this group of women,” Dunn said
Extra care is being taken with each item, such as wrapping soap in aluminum foil and then putting it in a resealable bag, so it does not scent everything in the box.
October and November will be dedicated to raising the $7 donation Samaritan’s Purse requests to cover shipping each box. In December, they will rest before launching toward next year’s goal.
The project has already gone beyond the Candies Creek congregation, as two of the Shoebox Sisters are from other churches.
Dunn said she hopes other churches will develop similar groups to support OCC.
Guidelines for packing shoeboxes can be found at http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/.
Although national collection week is in November, OCC accepts shoeboxes year round at its Boone and Charlotte, N.C. headquarters.