Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lamb's Wool Ministry ~ Sharing Hugs in Shoeboxes

December 14, 2012 from

Filling Shoe Boxes With Love

Operation Christmas Child volunteers handcraft thousands of items to place in shoe box gifts
There was no grand revelation, no lightning bolt from heaven. Jan Holt just saw a need and decided to do something about it.

For each of the past nine years, Jan has volunteered several days at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center at Samaritan's Purse international headquarters in Boone, North Carolina. Each of our centers accept gifts-in-kind, or donated items, which can be used to fill shoe boxes that arrive a little light on presents or contain inappropriate/unshippable items.

One year Jan noticed that the pile of donated gifts was running low. That bothered her because she wanted every child touched by Operation Christmas Child to have a shoe box as full of gifts as possible.

So in 2007 Jan and a friend, Carol Bridge, started the Filler Factory. Rather than collecting donations, they chose to make special gifts by hand throughout the year. The timing was perfect to start a project like this since Jan had just retired and wanted to do something helpful. That first year the two of them made almost 2,500 items.

Filler Factory Increases Production

When word spread around their church—New Life Christian Church in Newtown, Pennsylvania—others wanted to join in, and the work force expanded to a couple dozen. This year, three couples (Jan, and her husband Dennis, a retired union carpenter; Jim and Sandy Cunningham; and Paul and Carol Gangewer) led the efforts of 35 to 40 volunteers.

“It’s a group effort,” Jan said. “No one person can sustain anything like this.”

The vast majority of their gifts remain handmade. They donated 34,000 items this year, which were either shipped to the Charlotte Processing Center or hand-delivered to the Boone Processing Center. In addition, the church collected 1,100 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes already loaded with gifts.

Most months, Filler Factory workers meet once every other week from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to build, sew, or otherwise create handmade presents. Detailed patterns and instructions are provided for several items. Among the gifts the group makes are wooden cars and crosses, jewelry, small teddy bears, sock dolls, yarn dolls, crocheted purses and head warmers, ribbon twirlers, and tic-tac-toe games. The group reached its all-time high with 54,000 gifts in 2011.

Jan says long-lasting friendships have been made through the group. And as each participant “talks it up” with others, the reach of the project is expanded throughout the community. For instance, the Filler Factory collects donations of scrap wood from a Christian-owned cabinet-making shop near Newtown. In recent years, not only has the shop donated scrap wood, the workers have started packing their own shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Every Box Touched Is a Child Blessed

New Life Christian Church has been coming to Boone to process shoe box gifts for a decade now. Volunteers typically inspect, process, tape, and scan shoe boxes. In recent years, they’ve been working the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday following Thanksgiving.

The work is draining—“It’s a good tired,” Jan says—but rewarding, as she and the others know that each box is a potential Gospel opportunity. Gifts processed in Boone this year are going to Ukraine, Burkina Faso, Lesotho, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Chad, and Burundi.

Jan says her church never makes their annual journey to Boone without first-timers; this year 32 total volunteers made the trip to the far western mountains of North Carolina.

After spending hands-on time with the shoe boxes in Boone, volunteers “just bubble all year long,” Jan said.

“It’s a blessing here and at home,” said Jan’s husband Dennis, who also made his ninth trip to Boone this year.

Jim Cunningham was one of the first two volunteers from New Life to make the 12- to 13-hour trip down from Pennsylvania 10 years ago. Jim has been coming every year since, joined now by his wife Sandy.

Jim compares the processing work each volunteer does to the account of Jesus placing his hand on the little children and blessing them in Matthew 19:13–15. “For every box we touch, we’re symbolically doing what Christ did,” he said.

Seeing Filler Factory’s handmade creations added with love to shoe boxes in Boone is a great treat, Jan said.

“It makes your whole year worthwhile to be able to do that,” she said.

Samaritan’s Purse staff reports an estimated 60 pallets of gift-in-kind, or donated, items will be used this year just at the Boone center. The location expected to process a total of 720,000 shoe boxes during 15 days of work in late November and early December. There are also six other Processing Centers across the country that need gifts-in-kind, including locations in Atlanta and Charlotte that process significantly more boxes than Boone.

The thousands of handmade toys, dolls, games, and other items that New Life Christian Church delivers are all placed in shoe boxes within a few days, highlighting the importance of gifts-in-kind.

Filler Factory’s work is a drop in the bucket some might say, but that’s not how Jan or her crew see it. Every shoe box, even every gift, represents an opportunity to bring joy to a child and to tell him or her about the life-changing hope found only in Jesus Christ.

“Each drop makes a difference,” Jan said.

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