Thousands of “elves” are busy putting together holiday gifts as part of a charitable drive that hopes to add some magic this Christmas season for millions of needy children worldwide.
The elves are volunteers for Operation Christmas Child — a holiday project that delivers gifts to kids in more than 100 countries on six continents.
The ministry is an outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization. Its mission is to use gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. This year’s goal is 10 million shoeboxes. More than 730,000 are expected to be processed at a warehouse at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, one of nine processing centers across the nation.
“For many, this is the first gift they have ever received,” said Mark Cooper, processing center manager. “It’s the first time someone’s ever showed them they are loved and valued.”
The warehouse was teeming this week with volunteers from around the world — some wearing colorful holiday garb and reindeer headgear. A statistics board showed that in the past week, they had processed 186,041shoeboxes earmarked for Peru, Latvia, Guyana and Lithuania.
Goodies included toys, school supplies and basic hygiene items that will be sent to children overseas who are struggling with war, disease, poverty and other difficult situations.
The shoeboxes also contain literature that provides “an opportunity to learn more about the Gospel,” said Cooper, of Southlake.
Cooper, who has made seven trips to five countries to witness children opening their presents at local churches, chokes up at the memory.
“There’s pandemonium,” he said. “There’s screaming and hollering and happiness.”
Elvina Kravchuk, a 26-year-old California resident, recalled receiving a shoebox when she was 7 years old and living in extreme poverty in Ukraine. The gifts given to her and her six siblings included a beautiful doll in a pink dress.
“I was very excited by that doll. It was a miracle,” she said in a phone interview, adding that she still has the toy.
Linda Rhodes, regional area coordinator, said her favorite role at the processing center is leading family tours. During processing season, each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., a staff member takes children ages 6-12 on an hour-long tour that includes processing mock shoeboxes and other hands-on activities.
The “journey of a shoebox” begins with items being donated and ends with a thankful child “in a faraway country,” she said. Then, the children wave and blow kisses to the “shoebox,” which is played by a child.
She explains to them that after the shoeboxes arrive in a given country, the gifts might be transported by boat, plane, dogsled, horseback, camel or even elephant or yak before they are finally delivered.
Rhodes, a 67-year-old retired kindergarten teacher from Bossier City, La., said the recipients receive cherished gifts, but those who make it happen are rewarded, too.
“We get to be part of this awesome ministry,” Rhodes said. “We give hope to children who have no hope. We let them know they are loved.”