Volunteers get early start on global Christmas gift project

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In 2012, Renee Munns decided to throw a party that would benefit total strangers. And she invited her friends, family and neighbors.

Five years later, she and her crew are packing more gift boxes than ever as volunteers for Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind.

On Friday at The Crossing, the volunteers will fill empty shoeboxes with Christmas gifts for children in need. The shoeboxes will be filled with donated toys, school supplies and hygiene items and sent to children ages 2 to 14 around the world who have been affected by war, poverty and famine.

“The boxes that these kids are getting, you know, it could be their first gift that they’ve ever received,” Munns said. “A lot of them are in hopeless situations, and it’s just to give hope that there’s someone out there that loves them enough to send them a present from around the world.”

Operation Christmas Child is an annual project of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian organization. The national project has collected and delivered more than 146 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 150 countries, according to its website.

Nearly 5,000 drop-off locations are opened during the project’s National Collection Week from Nov. 13 to Nov. 20 to receive shoebox gifts across the United States. The Crossing and Parkade Baptist Church are this year’s designated Columbia drop-off locations. Anyone can make a donation.

Munns began the gift-packing party to get people more involved in the annual project through an organized event. She shops sales all year to provide most of the items for the shoeboxes, but asks volunteers to bring one “wow-item” for a gift, like a Barbie or a toy truck, and $9 in cash to cover shipping fees, she said.

Last year’s event produced 256 boxes, and Munns said the group hopes to pack at least 300 shoebox gifts this weekend. These will contribute to the expected 15,433 boxes to be collected from the Central Missouri region this year, according to a news release from Operation Christmas Child.

After packing the boxes, Samaritan’s Purse, the national organization, will send them to churches around the world for distribution. In addition to the box, the children will receive a note that says the shoebox was packed with love and a booklet that introduces them to the Gospel, Munns said.

For online shoppers, Operation Christmas Child offers the option on its site to select gifts matched to a child’s age and gender and to send them with a photo or personal note of encouragement. Participants can also choose to use the project’s “Follow Your Box” feature to receive a tracking label for their shoebox that reveals its destination.

Although Munns has not made the event totally open to the public, she said those interested in volunteering can contact her about attending at Rmunns.occ@gmail.com.

“My goal is to get people interested in having their own gift-packing parties, maybe take it to their school or take it to their office,” Munns said. “I want to branch out more and multiply shoeboxes by just getting more people involved.”

Other National Collection Week gift drop-off locations in Central Missouri, with varied hours, include:

Ashland Baptist Church — AshlandMillersburg Baptist Church — FultonGrandview Baptist Church — CentraliaFirst Baptist Church of Centralia — CentraliaFirst Baptist Church — FultonFirst Baptist Church — CaliforniaFirst Baptist Church — BoonvilleCentennial Baptist Church — Mexico

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