SEASIDE — More than 1,300 shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies, personal hygiene products and other items are one step closer to reaching the hands of children in developing countries.
North Coast Family Fellowship was the local Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child rallying point for Clatsop County. Volunteers and donations often came in groups. Often, the boxes were put together as a coordinated effort between families, church congregations, schools and other organizations.
“It really brings the community together,” volunteer Mark Kenny said of Operation Christmas Child.
He and his wife, Lorri, are in their fifth year as relay center coordinators for the program at North Coast Family Fellowship, but the Seaside church has been a drop-off site for much longer.
Over the next year, the shoeboxes will be delivered to children ages 2 to 14 across the world. Sometimes delivery can take up to several months, because of difficulties getting the shoeboxes to remote locations.
The Kennys’ granddaughter, 7-year-old Kylie, said her favorite part of the program is “helping children get to have stuff,” although she also enjoyed handing out stickers and candy to those delivering boxes to the drop-off site. She and her family put together two boxes — one for a girl and one for a boy.
All participants specify if their shoebox is for a boy or girl and from which age category. Lorri Kenny said, for some reason, they generally get more packages for girls and for children in the younger age groups; the oldest category often “is lacking,” she said.
Many of the volunteers this year were belonged to North Coast Family Fellowship, but “anybody that would be really excited about Operation Christmas Child could help,” Kenny said. Anyone can prepare a box, regardless of religious views, but Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization.
Samaritan’s Purse’s church partners in other countries help get the shoeboxes into the hands of children at their churches, local public schools and other sites. Kenny said she likes the program because “It’s not just about the box; the box is where it starts.” Children are invited to their local church for a multi-week religious discipleship program, which ends with a graduation ceremony, and receive Bibles in their native language.
Some children share their stories about getting a shoebox, and their testimonies often reveal what an impact the shoeboxes have and how happy they are to receive even seemingly mundane items, like pencils, notebooks, balls or brushes.
“We forget how much we’re blessed,” Kenny said. “We take a lot for granted in the United States.”
Mark Kenny agreed it often takes giving up so little to pack a shoebox for a child and it can be a big eye-opener for people to see “what we can do without.” Since becoming a leader, he said he’s enjoyed “being able to work with a team of people that’s really excited about (the program) and to listen to testimonies afterward about how (the boxes) affected children’s lives.”
Sometimes a recipient will start corresponding with the giver. Lorri Kenny said her grandson, Dylan Macomb, now has a pen pal in the Philippines because of a shoebox he packed with his family last year.
North Coast Family Fellowship, the only drop-off location in Clatsop County, is part of the larger northwest team, along with sites in the Portland-metro area, Tillamook and others, for the program.
“We always hope to make a mark bigger than we did last year,” Lorri Kenny said.