Children in African nations and other impoverished areas of the world aren’t looking for Santa Claus to come as they sleep. Indeed, many don’t expect anything on Christmas.
But thanks to Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational Christian ministry, gifts come in the name of Christ, many from Southeast Georgia believers who bought them, packed them into shoe boxes and sent them with a prayer.
As in past years, Lord of Life Lutheran Church at 2801 Frederica Road on St. Simons Island will serve as a central drop-off point for area churches, families and individuals Nov. 16-23, said Mary Ellen Long, who coordinates the effort for the church.
Since 1993, the Boone, N.C.-based ministry has provided Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to more than 178 million children in more than 160 countries and territories, Samaritan’s Purse said on its website.
This year, Operation Christmas Child has a goal of collecting enough shoeboxes with toys and hygiene products to reach another 11 million children in countries such as Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine, the ministry said.
In 2019, more than 10.5 million packed shoeboxes were collected worldwide, 8.9 million of which came from the U.S., Samaritan’s Purse said.
It does more, however, than spread the generosity of Christians. Those who receive gifts also hear the true Christmas story and many enroll in a 12-lesson discipleship course called “The Greatest Journey,’’ through which many get to know Christ for the first time.
Many area churches have Operation Christmas Child boxes available and Lord of Life has extras, the church said. Those who have shoeboxes at home can also fill those, Long said.
Those who wish to fill them are asked to pack boxes specifically for a boy or girl and buy items appropriate for age groups 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14. Boxes are typically packed with as many items as will fit. Recommended gifts include hair brushes, soap and washcloths, toothbrushes, toys, games, puzzles, books, stuffed animals, jump ropes, balls, flip flops or shoes, pencils and notebook paper, markers, crayons, socks, hats, pajamas and shirts. Samaritan’s Purse asks donors to not pack toothpaste and candy, but anything else that a child in need could use is welcome.
First Baptist Church of St. Marys, CenterPoint Church in Brunswick and Altamaha Baptist in Jesup are also central drop off points. The three other churches pack their boxes in cartons and bring them to Lord of Life, Long said.
Those who wish to drop off shoeboxes at Lord of Life may do so on the following dates: Nov. 16-18, 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5-7 p.m.; Nov. 19-20, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Nov. 21-22, noon until 3 p.m. and Nov. 23, 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 5-7 p.m.
“We put them all in a big truck and take them to Atlanta,’’ to a processing center, she said.
Atlanta is one of eight such centers around the country.
Before they leave the church for Atlanta, volunteers pray over them.
“Along with the gift, if you’re able, they ask that you donate $9 to offset shipping [costs],’’ Long said.
Lord of Life has accepted and sent along widely varying quantities of shoeboxes.
“We could have a church bring 1,000 shoe boxes or a family bring in one,’’ she said.
In the past, donors have brought them inside the church, but Lord of Life is initiating a curbside drop-off because of the coronavirus, Long said.
Those who wish to order items online in bulk and have them delivered to Lord of Life Luther Church, 2801 Frederica Road, St. Simons Island, 31522.
Those who chose that option should provide information on the order to the church by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who prefer to shop online can browse samaritanspurse.org/buildonline and select gifts matched to a child’s specific age and gender, then finish packing the virtual shoe box by adding a photo and personal note of encouragement.
Anyone who wants to volunteer counting the shoe boxes and packing them in crates during the collection week may call Lord of Life at 912- 638-4673.