By: Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
The cooler fall weather signals the coming of the holidays, and with it comes one of the most prominent community-wide activities of the season. This weekend Operation Christmas Child (OCC) began preparations for packing an expected 2,000 gift-laden shoeboxes to send to needy children across the world.
Over the past 25 years, the OCC project has collected and delivered 168 million shoebox gifts to children in over 160 countries. It is organized by Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization that provides aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, and famine worldwide. For some of the children handed one of these boxes of presents and treats, it will be the first gift they have ever received.
The Kern River Valley (KRV) has been an important OCC packing site for 10 years under the enthusiastic leadership of Irene Martinson. In this annual effort, she enlists the participation of individuals and families, churches, schools, and organizations such as the Exchange and Rotary Clubs, women’s clubs, and Chambers of Commerce.
This year’s KRV shoebox packing project kicked off on October 5 with an OCC Countdown Event held at Faith Community Church. Volunteers received the latest information about the worldwide project, learned what to buy and how to pack the boxes, and picked up supplies to get started on their own contributions to the project. Martinson’s goal for Christmas 2019 is to collect 2,019 shoeboxes which will be delivered to the OCC West Coast processing center in Fullerton before being flown out to children across the world.
Martinson and volunteers will be handing out free shoeboxes and packing lists at their OCC booth during the Fall Festival in Kernville on the last weekend in October. They will answer questions about the program and how to contribute supplies or volunteer time. Cash donations will be used to buy supplies or to cover costs of shipping the shoeboxes across the globe. Community members unable to come to the booth can obtain additional information about the OCC project from Martinson at (760) 417-2279.
Contributions of supplies and cash donations will result in piles of toys, hygiene items, and schools supplies that need to be packed into separate boxes for boys and girls by age. Two community-wide packing parties will be held on consecutive Saturdays, November 2 and November 9, at the Kernville Community Center next to the Chamber of Commerce office.
OCC Collection Week will be November 18-24 during which time filled shoeboxes will be collected from the community packing parties and the packing efforts of churches, civic organizations, and individuals throughout the KRV.
If time is in short supply, shoeboxes can be filled ‘virtually’ on the OCC website at samaritanspurse.org/buildonline by selecting gifts to match a child’s age and gender. Packing can be enhanced by sending a digital photo and personal note of encouragement for the child which will be added to the shoebox.
Any shoebox packed either in person or online can be tracked to discover its destination. A small shipping donation will affix a tracking label on the box and its progress can be viewed on the ‘Follow Your Box’ feature at samaritanspurse.org/occ. Another way to make the experience more personal for those sending a shoebox would be to include a short letter to the child with contact information that could result in a personal response from the recipient.