The world's largest Christmas project kicked off its National Collection Week on Monday with the hope of mobilizing people across the nation to help send life-changing gifts to needy children around the world.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and hand-delivered more than 61 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in some 130 countries. Though shoe box gifts are collected year-round, Nov. 17-24 marks a special time for mobilizing people behind this year's goal to reach out to more than 8 million children.
"It's a wonderful project," says Vince Eisaman, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Fredonia, N.Y.
"It's really very touching, and it puts Christmas in perspective to help us realize what's important," he told the N.Y.-based county newspaper The Observer.
Aside from Christmas, this year's collection period has, for many, also put into perspective their own economic hardships, which come as the U.S. economy is facing the weakest spending environment in 17 years.
"Sometimes we all struggle to just 'get by,'" Manhattan resident and single mom Jenny Holguin told OCC coordinators.
But the struggles Americans face are often incomparable to the struggles facing poor children in poverty-stricken countries who can find hope in a simple shoe box gift, Holguin added.
"Helping children in countries who value things like a toothbrush really puts our lives, and our economic hardships, in perspective," she said.
Despite the hardships, many churches and households are continuing the tradition of giving through Operation Christmas Child, this year joining 10 other countries in sending gift-filled shoe boxes throughout the world.
Starting with an empty shoe box, donors provide simple items most people take for granted – toothpaste, small toys and school supplies – then wrap and deliver it to one of the several nearby drop off locations scattered throughout participating cities. For many kids who receive shoe box gifts, it will be the first gift they have ever received.