Following a record-high 2019, volunteers at Emmanuel Evangelical Missionary Church in Elmira are once again collecting shoeboxes to help spread holiday joy to children in impoverished nations via the Operation Christmas Child program.
As with almost everything else, there will be some changes this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the underlying purpose remains the same, says local organizer Gail Martin.
The campaign collects various items such as hygiene products, school supplies, and small toys that can be put into shoebox parcels. The boxes are then sent overseas to youngsters in developing nations. Operation Christmas Child, first launched in 1990, is a program of the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse, which does year-round work on projects such as building schools and clean-water systems in the developing world.
“This year, a lot of things are the same in that individuals will pack the shoeboxes and fill [them] with supplies that will go to children in developing nations. That doesn’t change.”
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What does change is the way that the gifts are dropped off and received.
“What we’re doing is when people are dropping off donations, we’re doing it in a physically distanced way. We’re going to have a table set up outside the church on collection,” Martin, explained, noting the collection period is now underway until Saturday (November 21).
“Volunteers will be inside. We ask that donors just empty out their vehicles and put stuff on the table. We do have some minor forms to fill out, but we’ll have a pen there and then it will be cleaned between visitors. Volunteers are able to help if needed,” said Martin.
Other prevention measures include the group of 15 volunteers wearing masks/facial coverings, gloves and staggered groups that are involved in social bubbles.
Another process of the tradition that remains unchanged is Kiwanis Transit taking the boxes to Hope Lutheran Church in Kitchener, a central hub to gather donations before shipping them to the likes of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The Kiwanis drivers will not be involved in the process of handling packages to reduce the amount of contact during the process, Martin noted.
Given the situation this year, the organization doesn’t know what to expect in the way of donations.
“Last year was a record-breaking year, we had over 1,500 shoe boxes. I expect that it’ll be lower this year. We have probably not as many people are attending church each week because some, especially some of our older members, feel that they need to be extra cautious. So, there’s that. But the larger community as well – people have a lot on their mind right now, a lot of things are juggling.”
That said, Martin expects many people will still embrace the season of giving.
“I think this year, a lot of people are looking for things that give them meaning and joy. They’re going to be looking for ways to celebrate the holiday season, especially if we’re not allowed to have big huge gatherings like we’re used to. And this is a really meaningful way for family to spread the joy of Christmas,” she said.
The option is available to support the cause from a distance for people who may not be comfortable dropping off a box in person. Through the Operation Christmas Child webpage, people can package a virtual box, for instance.