The pandemic has drastically changed how we live and work but it has also had an impact on the way volunteers serve those in need.
Some organizations even shut down and stopped serving over health and safety concerns.
But Operation Christmas Child, an annual program of the Christian nonprofit Samaritan's Purse, an international relief agency led by Franklin Graham, found creative ways to continue giving gifts to children around the world.
The ministry is well known for distributing shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene products. In addition to the gifts, children receive a small booklet that tells of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
More than 270,000 volunteers in the US and nearly 570,000 volunteers worldwide have persevered through the pandemic to ensure that children received their gift-filled shoeboxes.
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"This has been a difficult year for many children around the world," said Graham. "More than ever, they need to be reminded that God loves them and He hasn't forgotten them. I thank God for the incredible team of volunteers who serve year-round to share the hope of the Gospel with children—one shoebox at a time."
Volunteers worked together to send shoebox gifts to millions of children around the globe. Samaritan's Purse reported that 9.1 million shoeboxes were collected worldwide, with 7.8 million in the U.S. alone.
For that to happen, 70,000 participants staffed more than 4,000 drop-off locations across the U.S. last year. The new concept of a touch-free, curbside drop-off system for people donating shoebox gifts was introduced which allowed donors to safely contribute to the cause.
And more than 51,000 people volunteered to inspect shoeboxes at eight different processing centers across the country.
"God used this year to strengthen His church and lay a strong foundation for future ministry," said one volunteer. "Although we were apart, we were more unified than ever."
But COVID didn't stop the young, old, or sick from stepping up to pack boxes and show children everywhere that God loves them.
A family of eight in California chose not to receive birthday or Christmas presents so they could shop for shoeboxes. They packed 525 of them.
Mary Bird, 82, from Cuero, Texas used Operation Christmas Child to minister to the elders in her church. She transformed her home into a hub for shoebox-packing where more than 1,000 boxes were stuffed with gifts.
A Pennsylvania woman with a rare and incurable disorder encouraged everyone, especially young people, to still serve despite their physical challenges. Amanda Urgolites, 24, dislocates her bones up to 300 times per day yet she still found a way to sew nearly 1,500 bags, backpacks, and aprons for shoeboxes.
And 104-year-old Ira Miller from West Virginia packed his 1,000th shoebox for Operation Christmas Child this year.
Miller has been packing shoeboxes for the program for many years but decided to start keeping track when he turned 100-years-old. That year, he packed 100 boxes in honor of his centennial.
And now, volunteers across the US are increasing their efforts to reach another 8.2 million children with shoebox gifts as preparations are underway for National Collection Week, which is November 15 – 22.
To find out more about Operation Christmas Child - Samaritan's Purse, click here.
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