The congregation at the Middleburgh Reformed Church, along with thousands of congregations around the world, is working to make sure children everywhere have a cheerful holiday season.
For the third year in a row, the church participated as a drop-off destination for Operation Christmas Child. The project provides shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in need.
Last year, nearly 8.2 million shoeboxes were donated to children worldwide, with 5.2 million coming from the United States. Locally, 1,043 boxes were donated to the effort last year from the Middleburgh drop-off site. The boxes are sent to children in 130 different countries affected by war, terrorism, poverty, disease and natural disasters.
Mary Lou Ryan, center coordinator for the Middleburgh Reformed Church, said the congregation has been involved with the project for many years. She became a year-round volunteer in 2008, the year the church also became a local drop-off site.
“Becoming a full volunteer for the program has done nothing but bless my life,” said the 28-year-old Middleburgh resident.
The project was started in 1993 as part of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian organization founded by Franklin Graham. The organization provides international aid to those in need, while spreading the word of Christianity.
The shoeboxes are designed to provide a little relief to children from the worries of their everyday lives.
Those who donate to the project pack the box, or a similar-sized container, with small toys, hygiene products, education supplies and clothing. Once it is brought to a drop-off site, the box is labeled as appropriate for a specific gender and age range. The boxes are then sent to one of seven warehouses to be sorted, inspected and taped for shipping.
Any donated items too large for a shoebox or leftover donated items are given to the Salvation Army, local jails and the Schoharie County Action Program.
A donation of $7 must accompany each box to pay for shipping. The organization uses any means available to get the boxes to children throughout the world.
Those who donate can register their box online to follow the shipping of their package electronically. They are also encouraged to include their contact information and a picture of themselves in the box in case the children wish to thank the donors.
The money also pays for classes called “The Greatest Journey” that each child can choose to participate in for free. The classes teach children about the life of Jesus and his work.
On average, people from 22 different local churches volunteer at the Middleburgh drop-off site each year and donate boxes. Scout troops, senior citizen groups and individual residents also donate.
Barnerville United Methodist Church donated 25 boxes this year.
“We have a small congregation, so we were fortunate to put together that many,” said Beverly Stanton, the church’s project director. “It’s a fun thing for the whole church to do, as a way to give back.”
Within two hours on Nov. 14, the first day donations could be given to the church, 600 shoe boxes had already been brought to the Middleburgh site.
“Our goal for this year was 1,110 boxes from our site, but we are well on our way to shattering that mark,” Ryan said.
Two hundred of the boxes were donated by the First Baptist Church of Westerlo. The shoeboxes were packed into larger cardboard boxes, and then stacked to line an entire wall of the Middleburgh church’s recreation room.
Lisa McCann, a volunteer from the Second Reformed Church of Howes Cave, said the project gives a new perspective on life to volunteers and those who donate.
“We take so much for granted until you witness the lifestyle of someone living in a third-world country. The United States is in a time of need, but there are other people who need help more,” she said. “Every person volunteering here could tell you their own story of necessity, but they put those things aside to help others.”
Operation Christmas Child also inspired her congregation to give back in other ways.
The Howes Cave church is now taking donations to fill shoeboxes for the elderly. The congregation is seeking small, entertainment-type gifts, such as playing cards, books, magazines, word jumbles and puzzles. They are also seeking hygiene products and winter apparel, like hats and gloves.
Donations can be brought to the church until Dec. 12.
“I have found the [Operation Christmas Child] to be a unifying agent,” Ryan said. “Anyone young or old is able to participate and we are blessed to be able to do it.”
More information can be found on the website, www.samaritanspurse.org.