Charles M. Schulz, St. Paul native and creator of the “Peanuts” cartoon strip, once said “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

For area Operation Christmas Child volunteers, making that “little something extra” happen is a year-round endeavor. Operation Christmas Child is a Samaritan’s Purse project in which showboxes are collected and filled with gifts and delivered to children in need around the world. 

According to Deanna Gusk, East Central OCC Community Relations Coordinator, a core group of eight volunteers begins work in January to plan for the annual packing event, where the boxes are packed and made ready for collection during Thanksgiving week. At this year’s Shoebox Packing Party, held Nov. 13 at New Hope Community Church in Cambridge, “dozens of local people” helped prepare 1,114 shoeboxes, Gusk said. 

OCC has been active in the region for many years, started by the father of current Logistics and Drop-off Coordinator Wendy Walburg. New Hope Community Church has been the collection center for East Central Minnesota for more than 15 years.

But the project expands beyond Cambridge. Several area churches throughout Mille Lacs, Isanti, Chisago, Kanabec and Pine counties contribute to the ministry.  

“We have … drop-off sites in five counties,” Gusk said. “Currently, we have drop-off churches in Milaca, Mora, Pine City and North Branch as well. Those churches will bring their area collected boxes to New Hope during National Collection Week to be packed into a semi-truck for the journey to Chicago’s Midwest Processing Center and then on to their final destinations.”

Gifts that go in the shoeboxes are often donated by local businesses, including toothbrushes and T-shirts. Volunteers make dresses, dolls, and craft fishing and sewing kits. Financial donations are used purchase packing supplies and to help cover shipping costs on boxes. Ladies from the local Ambassadors program and community members then gather to pack boxes and organize supplies.  

“It’s truly a special community event that is hosted by New Hope Community Church annually in the beginning of November,” Gusk said. 

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and distributed 188 million shoebox gifts to more than 170 countries and territories, Gusk said. “In 2021, OCC hopes to reach another 9.7 million children spreading the love of Jesus through a simple gift,” she added. In the last few years, the East Central region has collected around 7,000 boxes to the project.

It is difficult to determine exactly where the shoeboxes travel, but in 2019, Regional Coordinator Kim Mosman traveled to Namibia, Africa, to assist in shoebox distribution.  

“The experience was life changing and only further deepened her love for the OCC ministry,” Gusk said.

More than 270,000 people in the United States volunteer each year for OCC. In the East Central region, Gusk said, entire families are involved with various tasks throughout the year and through collection week.

“It’s a family affair,” Gusk said. “There is no age limit, and many families find packing boxes an enriching holiday tradition. During our packing party event, we have young children packing with parents and grandmas and grandpas that bring the grandkids to help. Who better to pack wonderful items into a shoebox gift than a child?”

Volunteers who took part in the shoebox-packing called the event “heartwarming; a tangible way to share the love of Christ; and fulfilling to be a part of a ministry that speaks to the hearts of children.”

Anyone can take part in this ministry, even if they can’t take part in the packing party. Visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ, learn how to pack a shoebox, and do “a little something extra” for someone this holiday season.

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