Operation Christmas Child is a program of Samaritan’s Purse, a charity formed by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, in 1993. The elder Graham passed away at 99 years of age on February 21st, 2018.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has sent 135 million boxes to children in 150 countries. The shoeboxes are filled with items such as hair clips, hygiene items (no liquids or toothpaste), school supplies, small toys and more. Ferd Koehn is the area director for Samaritan House in San Angelo and says that Operation Christmas Child requires extensive work, “We have a HUB in Dallas/Fort Worth where 300-400 volunteers get together to ship boxes.” Across the nation, there are 8 processing centers and Koehn says that thousands of volunteers help out, “We have about 9,000 year-round volunteers in the United States and approximately 260,000 volunteers in foreign countries that deliver the boxes when they arrive.”

One of the recipients of one of the Christmas boxes will speak about what receiving a box meant to her. Kim Heang Vance, a native of Cambodia, will speak at Ballinger’s First Baptist Church on Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 at 7 p.m.

Ballinger has 7 full-time volunteers that gather items for the boxes and pack them. A small church outside of Houston has already packed 10,000 boxes this year.

Koehn and his wife, Frieda, got involved with the program in 1995/1996 and says that the program has grown in the last 10 years. He projects that this year the operation will pack and ship over 9.1 million boxes from the United States alone. Other countries will donate about 2 million boxes, bringing the total to 11,000,000 boxes.

Many of the children who receive these boxes live in third-world countries and lack what we consider to be the basic comforts in life. The churches and other volunteer groups begin collecting the items in January, “Pretty much any group that wants to be part of the giving process can be part of Operation Christmas Child.” Many times the group will collect single items for a specific amount of time, “A church may say, ‘OK, let’s collect toothbrushes this month.’ Next month might be collecting Hot Wheels cars and so on.” Grace Fellowship here in Ballinger collects items throughout the year and then has a packing party when the boxes are assembled and ready to go.

This year Grace Fellowship will have their packing party on November 13th at 7 p.m.

It doesn’t have to be a shoebox though, “It can be a shoebox or any box about the size of a shoebox.“ Other items that are popular are wash cloths, jump ropes, small dolls, socks, etc. The boxes are packed based on age ranges; 2-4 years old; 5-9 years old: 10-14 years old. Koehn says that the 10-14 year old age group receives the fewest numbers of boxes. Popular items for those boxes consist of fishing line, small tools, etc. These items are hard to come by in impoverished locations around the world. Personal letters are allowed in the boxes. One person from the Concho Valley put in an email address and received a message from the child who received the box. Some people put photos in the boxes.

Koehn says that that program itself is a message to others, “The message that we try to get out is that this programs is a way to show God’s love to a child overseas who we may never meet. People can be missionaries without even leaving their homes.”

For more information on how you can be part of the Operation Christmas Child program, you can contact Koehn at 325-234-1799.