The Christmas spirit is alive in Joplin, Mo. Residents of the tornado damaged town have seen their share of hardships this year, but it didn’t stop them from participating in Operation Christmas Child. They more than doubled the number of shoe box donations for the organization that sends gift filled shoe boxes to third world countries every Christmas.
OCC Collection Center Coordinator Della Bergen told The Christian Post that the damage from the tornado didn’t stop people from donating. People who had lost everything still came out and donated boxes because OCC is a yearly tradition for them. She said they told her they’re “not going to miss it this year just because of the tornado.”
In total, the town raised 12,520 shoe boxes, compared with last year’s 5,664. Bergen said one of the reasons for the jump in donations stems from the fact that many tornado victims had people they didn’t even know give them things to survive. In turn, this gave them a deeper understanding of what Operation Christmas Child is all about.
Samaritan's Purse’s rescue efforts after the tornado also helped raise awareness for the ministry, and people wanted to give back.
Those who dropped off boxes told Bergen that even though they were just getting back on their feet, they knew their problems were a temporary situation, but for the kids getting shoe boxes, nothing ever changes.
Many new churches signed on this year to help with the shoe boxes. Harmony Heights Baptist Church was hit by the tornado during a service and three of its members were killed. They lost all of their supplies for OCC in the disaster as well.
But their Girls in Action group, made up of 1st through 5th graders, decided to hold a shoe box packing party. Together, the group, including a young girl who was rescued from the church’s library after the tornado, put together more than 20 shoe boxes to donate.
Forest Park Baptist Church member Randy Shanks and his life group began participating in OCC two years ago. He told The Christian Post that they originally suggested to members that they should try and put together 100 boxes. But as he and his wife were shopping for supplies they decided they needed to do more. So they upped the goal to 1,000 boxes. The only problem was they had to come up with the money for supplies and shipping.
It wasn’t until Shanks got his company, Nutrablend, involved that things began coming together. They asked customers if they wanted to redeem the points they earned through purchases with the company in a new way, giving them the opportunity to cash points in for OCC. Last year, they ended up earning $72,000 for OCC through the points system. That more than paid for the 1,000 boxes they put together.
The rest of the money went toward supplies and shipping for the 5,000 boxes Forest Park raised this year. The church also uses the money throughout the year to purchase supplies for upcoming years, and they now have a warehouse to store the supplies in.
Shanks said the church recently had a packing party where over 60 people, all of whom had been affected by the tornado in some way, showed up to pack shoe boxes. “Despite what the city of Joplin has gone through, the people of Joplin, and the area, have responded like they’re supposed to. People helping people,” he told CP.
Bergen echoed Shanks’ words when she talked about the number of people she saw coming together to donate. “It makes you stop and think. What about OCC is so impacting to people?” She believes it’s the opportunity the shoe boxes provide to share the Gospel. Bergen admits her expectations were low this year because of the tornado, but that in the end, “God showed me He can do more than we expect.”