Shoe box gifts spread cheer worldwide

By Sara Quam

The Christmas spirit has already blossomed in the hearts of some Rock County residents, starting the season of giving a little early.

This year, 4 million children are expected to receive shoe boxes full of small presents through Operation Christmas Child. The organization grows each year as it sends gifts to youth in any number of needy countries.

One of the ways Rock County has been able to participate in Operation Christmas Child is through First Baptist Church, Luverne.

This year it gathered 154 boxes that were brought to Sioux Falls Monday, shipped to Minneapolis and, from there, will go to destinations around the globe.

Don Spease, First Baptist's care group coordinator, said the small gifts mean so much to the children who receive them.

"To these kids, Christmas is just another day to survive," Spease said.

The international program was started by Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, and has steadily increased its reach by almost doubling the number of boxes sent in two years.

Spease said video footage of children opening their shoeboxes of goodies is a moving sight. Most of the children are from Latin America, eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

This year distribution will be specifically made in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip along with almost 50 other countries. Often, the families who receive are recovering from natural disasters.

Other area churches also gave to the organization and the Mary Jane Brown Good Samaritan Center helped First Baptist's contributions increase by bringing in 45 boxes.

MJB residents and staff spent three days assembling the gift collections, including some homemade crocheted items.

Activities director Janice Fick said, "They were really excited to give back."

Chaplain Martha Fick said, "It was a real, hands-on project that they could participate in. It was a heartwarming experience for staff and residents É really beautiful."

Fick said that residents who lived through the Great Depression could relate to the children benefiting from the packages.

"It was very real to them. One woman shared the story that if an aunt hadnÕt sent them a few things one year, they wouldn't have had a Christmas. É A few tears were shed and it was a touching experience."

In the process of shipping the shoe boxes, Operation Christmas Child organizers put in a short explanation of the meaning of Christmas.

Although some of the children receiving packages arenÕt Christian, Fick said, "It's important to share God's love anywhere. We have so much and we can give."

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