First Baptist in 15th year helping with program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

The holiday season is all about giving and First Baptist Church of Vicksburg is helping to facilitate gift giving worldwide.

Operation Christmas Child is a program where people pack shoeboxes with toys and other items that are given to children ages 2-14 in more than 100 countries.

“We’re not just talking about a shoebox,” Hester Pitts, relay center coordinator,  said. “We’re talking about impacting a child.”

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Pitts brought the program to FBC 15 years ago and the church became a relay center seven years ago, meaning it is the main drop off point in the region.

Last year, more than 5,100 boxes were donated in Warren County, and this year their goal is 5,500.

“Worldwide over 10 million were done and they went to over 100 countries of the world,” Pitts said.

Even though the boxes are referred to as shoeboxes, most people use a shoe box sized plastic storage box so the child can keep it for use long after they are given their gift.

Boxes are specialized for boys and girls in the age groups 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14. Pitts suggests people utilize the younger and older age group because the majority of the boxes they get are targeted at the 5-9 age group.

Boxes are packed with toys, school supplies, hygiene items. The program does not allow used items, anything war related, medicine, perishable, breakable or liquid.

“We had a girl last year that came and spoke to us that had received a shoebox. She lived in an orphanage and she shared a toothbrush with 25 other girls,” Pitts said.

She said that is why hygiene items are important to pack as well as school supplies, which in some countries are necessary to have to even attend school.

Boxes and their lids are supposed to be wrapped separately with a rubber band binding them together with a label by gender and age group.

Often times, box donators put a hand written note and a picture in the box to encourage the child and let them know they are loved.

They are asking for $7 donations to cover shipping. The donation can be put in the box or paid online to follow the destination of the shoebox.

The Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action, the first through sixth grade children’s mission organizations at the church, were already preparing their boxes Wednesday night.

“They brought $5 tonight, and they picked out five fun things, toys or stationary or whatever they thought someone might like their age,” Liesel Thompson, children’s ministry coordinator, said.

This was Caleb Stewart’s, 9, second year to pack a box, and he collected funny toys like a whoopee cushion and toy bugs.

A doll, a plush dolphin, a toy microphone and a brush were some of the items Emma Potts, 10, picked out.

“It was a lot of fun, and since it was my first time I was sort of being a bit picky,” Potts said.

She wanted to make sure she was picking out the best gifts for the child who receives her box.

“I think that they’ll feel loved and know that somebody cares about them,” Potts said.

Oliver Henry Lee, 8, had fun buying and packing a basketball, slinky and football in his box, and he thinks he’ll come back next year. Lee said the boxes will make the children happy and they will know that someone is always by their side.

The church will collect boxes Monday, Nov. 16, and Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 17, and Thursday, Nov. 19, from noon to 4 p.m., Friday, Nov. 20, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. to noon.

The congregation will pray over the boxes at noon on Sunday, Nov. 22.

“We gather around and pray over every single shoebox,” Pitts said.

From FBC Vicksburg the boxes will be taken to FBC Jackson where they will be put on an 18-wheeler and go to Atlanta where they will be sorted before shipping off around the world.

“We go to the warehouse Sunday after Thanksgiving,” Pitts said.

“I have 17 people going with us from the church.”

The group spends three days going through the boxes to make sure they are packed correctly.

After receiving the shoebox gift, some children have the option of attending a 12-lesson Bible study course called The Greatest Journey.

“I’ve gone to Peru and handed out shoeboxes. When we give them shoeboxes you give them a pamphlet telling about The Greatest Story in their language,” Pitts said.

She said later the teachers, pastors and missionaries follow up with The Greatest Journey program and once the child completes the 12 lessons they are given a bible.

Pitts has spoken to churches, schools and service clubs encouraging them to join the mission.

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse led by Franklin Graham.

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