ORRINGTON, Maine — Sharon Gray, her arms loaded with wrapped Christmas boxes, rushed through the door of Calvary Chapel on Monday morning. Her husband, Scot Gray, came in behind her carrying more.
The couple dropped off 16 wrapped shoe boxes filled with small gifts bound for children around the world. The shoe boxes were packed by members of the Gray’s congregation, First United Methodist Church of Orrington.
“We do this as part of our church outreach,” Sharon Gray said. “It’s always important to reach out to the children and people in need.”
Calvary Chapel has served as a collection point for Operation Christmas Child for about eight years, according to Lisa Norsworthy of Bangor. Last year, churches in Greater Bangor collected 4,774 shoe boxes filled with small toys, hard candy, toothbrushes, toothpaste, flashlights and other things that were shipped out in a tractor-trailer to OCC’s headquarters in Boone, N.C.
The program delivers the boxes, which include a personal note and often photos from the sender to children ages 2 to 14 in 100 countries suffering from war, terrorism, disease, natural disaster, famine and poverty. OCC is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization founded in 1970.
Samaritan’s Purse was founded to follow Christ’s command to “go and do likewise” in Luke 10:30-37, which tells the story of the good Samaritan. The organization says it has done its “utmost to follow Christ’s command by going to the aid of the world’s poor, sick and suffering.” It was founded by the Rev. Franklin Graham, the eldest son of the Rev. Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth Graham.
For the past two years, Norsworthy’s job has been to receive the boxes from area churches and other groups the week before Thanksgiving. A representative of each church or organization, such as Girl or Boy Scout troops, fills out a form that includes the number of boxes dropped off. Norsworthy packs them by gender and age into large cardboard shipping boxes provided by OCC that are then packed in the tractor-trailer.
“One of the reasons our church likes this is that after the candy is eaten and the toys are broken they have a booklet, written in their own language, with the message of Christ in it,” Norsworthy said. “That lasts forever, of course.”
The students at the Calvary Chapel Christian School began collecting gifts at the beginning of school, she said. Last Friday, the students packed and wrapped 104 shoe boxes.
“Some of the kids here are very unaware of the conditions that exist in the world,” Norsworthy said. “When they help pick out simple things to go in the boxes, they see how blessed we are in this country and the simple things we take for granted like toothbrushes and toothpaste.”
In other parts of the country, the impact that the gift of a shoe box can have in a child’s life is being told firsthand.
Earlier this month, a Texas television station interviewed Oksana Nelson, 18, of Jacksonville, Texas. A decade ago, she was living in a Russian orphanage when American missionaries brought the children gift-filled shoe boxes. The television program reported that she received dominoes and candy, and one item she really liked — mint-flavored toothpaste. The item Nelson valued most, however, was the picture of the two children who had packed her box.
“I opened my box slowly and was overwhelmed by all of the gifts it held,” Nelson told the Texas newspaper the Weatherford Democrat earlier this month. “It was so impacting seeing the faces of the two children in the photo that cared about someone they didn’t even know on the other side of the world.”
A year later, she was adopted by an American family and moved to Weatherford. A few years ago her church started collecting gift boxes for OCC. Now she speaks to churches, community groups and schools about her experience.
“One box equals one child equals one soul,” she said. “Every time I speak, I believe it affects more kids.”
While the local collection period is over, people still can mail shoe boxes directly to OCC.
For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.