Collection of shoe box gifts for Operation Christmas Child continues this week at Family-Life Church in downtown Kittanning. As of yesterday afternoon, 2,794 boxes have been collected.
The shoe box drive is an outreach of the Samaritan’s Purse, a relief agency headed by Franklin Graham. Shoe boxes are filled with age-appropriate gifts that are collected and shipped to children in third-world countries.
Family-Life Church has been designated the collection center for Armstrong County for the past 15 years. Volunteers from various churches come to assist as shoe boxes are delivered from individuals and organizations in every borough and township of the county.
Randy West is a retired missionary who served in Kenya, Africa. Now living in Dayton, he knows the impact the boxes make to children who have never experienced a Christmas present.
“We got a call that there was a large airplane sitting on the runway in Nairobi (capital city) and it was full of Christmas packages and they had to get it off right away. So we got large trucks (and any vehicle we could get). There were 35,000 Christmas shoe boxes and we were able to distribute them to churches, orphanages, and hospitals. My wife and I personally gave out hundreds and hundreds of them. It was quite a joy.”
West recalled some of his experiences handing out the shoe boxes to children.
“We distributed them to children who don’t get anything, or even never heard of Christmas. Many of them were street children or orphans, or in hospitals. These are children that are suffering and hurting in developing countries. They don’t have much to begin with.”
West and his wife are youth leaders at the Dayton United Methodist Church, and are part of the evangelism team.
“Having worked with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child, I naturally wanted our church to be involved.”
West and his family will never forget the impact it had on children that were able to receive a shoebox gift through Operation Christmas Child.
“There were natives just dressed in blankets with beads and spears. We were handing their children these boxes. There was so much difference between our cultures and the way we live. But the children smiled just like our kids smile. They laughed just like our children laugh. They jumped up and down and screamed just like our kids would on Christmas morning. We were so different, but so much alike.
“We had one gift that came a few years ago when each shoe box was wrapped with Christmas paper. But this box was wrapped in old newspaper. My wife and I decided to open it to make sure it was adequate to give a child. It had old beat-up wooden toys in it. They were obviously very much used. In the bottom was a note. It said: ‘We ain’t got much but each kid gave his best-est, favoritest toy! It touched our heart. We wrapped it back up and we saw the little boy that got that box. He jumped up and down and screamed. There were about 200 children of street kids that day and he ran back in line to his friend and wanted to share what was in his box. We had to tell him it was okay – that his friend would be getting a box of his own. It didn’t matter the toys were old. He was so thrilled with that box. They were the ‘favoritest’ toy of some child, and now they were going to be the ‘favoritest’ toy of another child.”
Collection will continue until this Sunday afternoon at 2PM. For more information on Operation Christmas Child or drop-off hours, call Jan Pennington at 724-548-8000 between 9AM-3PM.