Hundreds of volunteers from across the country descended on New York City Friday in an effort to pack more than 5,000 shoe boxes with small Christmas gifts to send to some of the worlds neediest children.
The project, dubbed Operation Christmas Child, is an effort to place more than 8 million gift boxes in children’s hands worldwide this holiday season, organizers said.
“This is an opportunity to tell them that they haven’t been forgotten,” said Randy Riddle, the U.S. director for operations for the project.
The group, with the help of its parent organization Samaritan’s Purse, has delivered 87 million gift boxes to children in third-world countries since its beginning in the U.S. in 1993.
Gifts are collected at thousands of locations across the U.S. and internationally from Nov. 14-21. The boxes are then collected at distribution points and shipped to local volunteers in more than 100 countries, who distribute them to children.
It’s an effort that cuts across all borders and faiths and required tens of thousands of volunteers in the U.S. and abroad.
The boxes, which often go to children who sleep on dirt floors or in orphanages, are packed with the essentials – toothbrushes, soap, wash clothes and other supplies, organizers said. The boxes also contain small age and gender specific gifts, like dolls, sunglasses and candy.
The group selects items based on recommendations from church leaders and other volunteers abroad who assess the needs in their communities, organizers said.
The group also sends boxes to countries stricken with disasters, whether it be Haiti after the recent earthquake or Kosovo after the war in the 1990s.
The boxes are small, but are meant to help children and bring happiness to them during the holidays.
“When they open their box, it’s maybe something they’ve never had before,” said Joey White, one of the project’s organizers.
Many of the boxes also contain letters written by the packers and photos of their families, which is something to help the children receiving the gifts know someone cares, White said.
The individual nature of the packing and personally handing out the gifts is a massive coordinating effort, but something that organizers said has helped the project grow from just a few thousand boxes in 1993 to more than 8 million last year.
“The project’s really growing by word of mouth,” White said.
To find out more visit ShoeBoxBlitz.com.