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, school supplies, small toys and more.

On a very cold evening at 6 p.m., after a November cold front passed through Ballinger, about 3-dozen volunteers descend on Grace Fellowship Church in Ballinger to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child.

The first order of business is laying out several hot soups and other comfort foods in the kitchen of the fellowship house next to the church. Then the desserts are set out. There are enough desserts and sweets to fill a workshop full of Santa’s elves. Laughter and fellowship fill the air, as do the tidings of good will and friendship, young and old alike, coming together for a common purpose: To pack over 300 Operation Christmas Child boxes.

The work starts at 7 p.m. and there is no minimum age or maximum age for volunteers. The volunteers are all ages, everyone with an assigned job. It’s like an assembly line, except rather than the items coming to the volunteers, the volunteers go to the items. Each one picks up a box. One box is labeled for “Girl’, and one is labeled, “Boys.” Each box has the logo on the top of it.

A closer look reveals that there are some boxes not labeled, they’re just plain boxes. Linda Broom, my gracious and elegant hostess for the evening explains why, “In some countries Christianity is illegal. So this is how we get the boxes to the kids.” Scenes of the famous and timeless Christmas classic, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” invade your conscience: A “Burgermeister Meisterburger” and his army of goons blocking all attempts by Santa to spread Christmas cheer. But, that is the reality of the world. It doesn’t even faze those working together in Grace Fellowship on this evening. All of the boxes are packed with care and love.

This is a true group effort. No one wants to be singled out, no one wants to take credit, and they all just want to work together to send Christmas to more than 11,000,000 children worldwide. That’s correct, eleven million children. Grace Fellowship is doing their part to fulfill that goal on this evening. There is no room for lollygaggers. You’re either packing a box or putting a rubber band around the box or stacking the boxes. You can even do all 3 jobs, but you won’t do just one. It’s a team effort on a grand scale for this close-knit church; All hands on deck.

The boxes are for younger children as well as older children. They are packed according to age groups of the intended recipients: 2-4 years old: 5-9 years old and 10-14 years old.

Each volunteer picks up an empty box and moves along in line with other volunteers, selecting items appropriate for the age level of the child who the box is intended for; Table to table, room to room. The volunteers range from 8 years of age or younger to some over 80 years of age. Many of the items are store-bought but some are handmade. Hans Borm and Dianna Spence knit hats for each of the children. There are stacks of crocheted hats, each created with love and attention to detail. They are superior quality, worthy of Operation Christmas Child. The church members will start purchasing items for the following year’s boxes the day after Christmas. They collect the items until November and typically pack them the second week in November.

On this night, this church and their members will pack over 363 boxes. That’s not the only impressive part. What is just as impressive is that they do it all in under 2 hours. That’s 181 boxes per hour; 45 boxes every 15 minutes.

This year the United States alone will pack over 9 million boxes. Over 2 million boxes will come from other countries. A total of 9,000 volunteers in the USA and 260,000 volunteers around the world will pack the boxes. The ones from Grace Fellowship have already made their way to Dallas/Ft. Worth, where 300-400 volunteers while ship them.

Koehn says that that program itself is a message to others, “The message that we try to get out is that this program 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.

The volunteers are: Carl, Cheryl and Megan King; Martha Pickney; Sarah Hardwicke; Delpha Caudle; Hans and Linda Borm; Scott and Tweedy Warren; Bob and Sue Smith; Ike Burelsmith. Jeff, Amber, Mason and Evan Cave; Sandra Van Zant; John, Jennifer, Olivia, Jessica and Luke Bean; Linda Maynard; Dianna Spence; Jo Coats; Carolyn Flanagan; Andy Walker; Ferd and Frieda Koehn; Brenda and Leland Hamner with grandchildren Ashylyn, Meagan and Kaitlyn Alberts.