We had fundraised for our Operation Christmas Ripples campaign since May. We lost track of the number of cakes, cupcakes, and even cookies we made to thank everyone for their donations. We collected thousands of toys, personal care items, school supplies and Operation Christmas Child
shoe boxes! We spoke at church, at schools and sent out letters. We collected toys for the children in the St. Vincent de Paul Family Success Center after school program and we made almost 400 reindeer decorated glass bottles of Ale8! If Santa thought he kept his elves busy in 2016, we could have given them a class on mass collection of “stuff”…and as December 1, 2016 got closer and closer, our whole house began to look like the local thrift store! Every corner of the dining room was filled, our mom was making a list and checking it twice to the power of 10! What was the result?
105 wonderful volunteers began to form a line out the door at 4pm on the appointed day, and one hour later, 128 children came bouncing, bounding, running and jumping into the building, which was set up with four “stations” for them to work their way through. Each of the 36 regular attendees in the after school program brought three friends! This in itself was a new experience for most of them! It is rare that they get to invite friends to a party! They worked their way through the Operation Christmas Child Shoe box packing line, carefully choosing what delightful items to put into the box. For many, they thought they were going to keep that box!
Thankfully, God had inspired us to make a “Bingo Card” listing each of the activities they needed to complete in order to exchange the card for their own gift, which we had purchased directly from Matel in July. We had also assembled many fun items like boxes of Crayons, stickers, washable tattoos and candy for them; all assembled in festive goodie bags. That was the brilliant idea that saved the day, when the mommas of the children informed us that their little cherub had decided to keep the shoe box, rather than send it to a needy child across the globe!
The children made a hand-print Christmas tree mural, wrote a note to include in the shoe box, which was going to their unknown friend in a foreign country, had their picture taken to also include in the box, decorated a special cupcake to carefully pack in the individual cupcake boxes which Sullivan University had donated to our “Giving and Receiving Party” and then each had gotten to eat a cupcake, which we had decorated for them. They gladly drank the Ale8 out of their reindeer glass bottle after enjoying some of the popcorn which the Popcorn station had graciously blessed them with for the party. All of these events had been carefully planned, and the 105 volunteers helped us keep the flow of the night going. The Louisville League of Mascots showed up with about 8 mascots which circulated throughout the party, giving high-fives and dabbing with the children. Texas Roadhouse Grill of Middletown Crossings donated peanuts and brought their mascot, who stayed in character for the ENTIRE PARTY. Speaking as someone who has “been there, done that,” I have to say that might be the biggest hero of the night story!
What we had not anticipated though, was that the mommas, and grandmas, and friends, and aunties would all want to travel through the various stations with their sweet cherubs. Next year, (my mom will roll her eyes when she reads that phrase) we will need to factor this in. The space it takes to move 128 children, with an average of 2.3 adults attached to them, is a bit more than we had thought we needed! But overall, even that worked out well, thanks to the amazingly flexible volunteers! The long row of 263 Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes against the wall, and the happy, giggling cherubs walking out the door, clutching their goodie bag, toy and special cupcake they had decorated and were going to deliver to a friend or teacher the next day, was well worth all the noise and confusion, mess and work!
Ten days later we packed several vans with the shoe boxes the cherubs had packed, along with 18 teenagers and adults and made a pilgrimage to the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, North Carolina. For two days, we packed the 263 shoe boxes, along with over 4,000 shoe boxes other people had packed, into larger distribution boxes. There were other teams at the headquarters packing as well, and in the course of our two days together, 40,000 shoe boxes were ready to go to South Africa to bless those children across the globe that the cherubs will almost certainly never meet, but whose lives will surely be touched by the the cherub’s carefully chosen treasures, note and picture they placed in the box.
And that is how the ripples work. The children who receive the box will be changed. They will feel love from someone so far away, they can’t possibly know them, yet they feel connected for a moment. They then get to hear about the love of Jesus by the church or group who gave them the box. And the children who packed the gifts were impacted. The children left the party changed. They had been given the opportunity to “do unto others as they like to have done for themselves.” Giving isn’t really an end in itself. It leaves you filled up. It gives you great joy. But it also opens you up to understand something deeper. And whether the children made the direct connection or not, the gift of “giving” shared with them the love Jesus has for them, because that is what Christmas is really all about. Jesus Christ gave each of us the very best gift of all…Himself.