Boxes of joy sought for children overseas

By Sunday, Abounding Grace Christian Church in Schenectady will be stocked with more shoe boxes than

By Sunday, Abounding Grace Christian Church in Schenectady will be stocked with more shoe boxes than your average shoe store.

Inside those boxes won’t be brand new sneakers or pumps, though. They’ll be filled with something much more fun: Christmas gifts for boys and girls overseas.

The boxes full of small toys, hygiene products, school supplies and other surprises will be shipped to 97 countries as part of the Operation Christmas Child program, sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization.

Abounding Grace Christian Church on Hamburg Street serves as a drop-off site for the gift-filled boxes. Last year, the church collected 700 of them. This year, there’s hope that number will top 1,000.

Kim Ambesi of Pattersonville coordinates the volunteer effort for the church. In September, she and a small group of volunteers began passing out empty Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes to anyone in the community who wished to participate.

Today, those boxes, now filled with gifts, will begin arriving back at the church and at two other local drop-off sites: Duanesburg-Florida Baptist Church in Delanson and Trinity Worship Christian Fellowship in Albany. Boxes can be dropped off at Abounding Grace through Nov. 20 and at the other two locations through Nov. 21.

There is still plenty of time to donate one or more gift-filled boxes to the effort, even if a shoe box has yet to be secured.

Although it’s OK to use any shoe box, it’s preferable to use an official Operation Christmas Child one because they are all of uniform size and can be packed more efficiently into larger cartons for shipping.

Empty Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes can be picked up at any of the three local drop-off sites.

Gifts chosen to fill the box should be either for a boy or a girl in one of three age ranges: 2 to 4, 5 to 9 or 10 to 14. The selected gender and age range should be posted on the outside of the box. Gifts can range from practical to fun: toothbrushes and toothpaste, stuffed animals, crayons, kazoos, hard candies, coloring books or bars of soap.

“A lot of people like to put in a letter from them saying who they are and maybe even their address, so the child can write back to them when they get their shoe box. Or some people put in pictures of themselves and their families,” Ambesi said.

It’s also suggested that a $7 check, payable to Samaritan’s Purse, be placed in each box to help defray shipping and other project costs.

If that donation is given online at, the donor can print out a barcode to affix to the shoe box. That bar code is connected to the donor’s email address, so he or she will receive an email that details the gift’s destination.

Items that should not be put in the gift boxes include war-related toys, anything breakable, chocolate, food, liquids, lotions, medications and vitamins.

The top of the shoe box can be wrapped, but the box shouldn’t be wrapped shut. Instead, the top should be secured with a rubber band.

Last year, Abounding Grace Christian Church collected 46 cartons of gift-filled shoe boxes. “Normally we can fit 12 to 15 shoe boxes in a carton and sometimes more,” said Ambesi.

Once all of the shoe boxes have been turned in, Abounding Grace transports them to the main collection center, Grace Fellowship in Latham, which is one of 428 collection centers in the U.S. From there, the boxes are transported by tractor-trailer to the main processing center in North Carolina. The gift boxes are inspected there and then shipped to children in countries including Ghana, Madagascar, Romania, New Guinea, China and Nicaragua.

In 2010, 5 million gift-filled shoe boxes were collected in the US.

“Those kids that get these shoe boxes, they treasure them, and it means so much to them to know that there are other people out there somewhere who are thinking of them,” said Ambesi.

Ambesi, who has been an Operation Christmas Child volunteer for seven years, said it’s amazing to see the gift-laden shoe boxes fill the church. She especially loves it when little children bring in boxes they’ve helped to fill.

“They decorate them sometimes and they put stickers on them, and they’re excited to be giving to somebody who needs it,” she said.

Ambesi acknowledged that there are many needy people locally whose holidays would be brightened by a program like Operation Christmas Child. But giving to those overseas is important, too, she said.

“Our church, we still do the toys for City Mission and we’re still collecting for the flood victims, but we can also do this,” she said. “We need to stretch ourselves.”

Drop-off locations

Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts can be dropped off this week at three local collection sites:

* Abounding Grace Christian Church, 3060 Hamburg St., Schenectady: Monday, 10 a.m. to noon; Tuesday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

* Duanesburg-Florida Baptist Church, 7967 Route 30, Delanson: Monday and Tuesday, 6 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, 5 to 7 p.m.; Thursday, 1 to 3 p.m.; Friday, 6 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 to 11 a.m.; Sunday, Nov. 20, 1 to 3 p.m.; Monday, Nov. 21, 9 to 11 a.m.

* Trinity Worship Christian Fellowship, 35 Commerce Ave., Albany: Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 20, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Monday, Nov. 21, 9 a.m. to noon.

Categories: Schenectady County

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