It’s Christmas time. And while Medina County residents enjoy a world of plenty, they haven’t forgotten that the greatest gift some will get this year is life.
Churchgoes have done more than pray for the others, and their efforts this year will be to bring a smile of joy to more than 10,500 children in other countries. They’ve been giving all year to five churches countywide who participate in Operation Christmas Child.
The program was started in 1993 by Franklin Graham — son of evangelist Billy Graham — and operates across the United States and several other countries. In late November, each participating church organizes all the items donated — hygiene products, small toys and stuffed animals and other basic necessities — into uniformly sized shoeboxes. Those boxes are then shipped to churches and missions overseas.
The program is designed to spread hope and the gospel to children in impoverished nations.
“It’s just to give something to a child who doesn’t have anything and probably never received a gift in their life,” Charles Palmer said.
Palmer, 74, and his wife Ann, 75, of North Olmsted, have been part of the program for 11 years, becoming full-time volunteers four years ago. Now they are area coordinators for a 10-county area, including Medina, Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, Lorain, Erie, Huron, Summit, Stark and Wayne counties.
They are members of North Olmsted Evangelical Friends Church, one of the program’s consolidation points for the region.
Crossroads Community Church in Doylestown also serves as a collection site.
Crossroads collected enough donations for 3,337 shoeboxes; North Side Christian Church in Wadsworth contributed 1,376; Brunswick Reformed Church on Grafton Road collected 3,839; West Salem’s Mohican Brethren Church contributed 433 shoeboxes; and Harvest Presbyterian Church on Reagan Parkway and Weymouth Road produced 1,531 shoeboxes.
“It’s always really amazing to see how generous Medina County is,” said Kim Pettay, church administrator at Harvest Presbyterian Church.
The Palmers’ territory this year will provide 47,450 gift shoeboxes, part of 7.2 million boxes collected across the United States.
All the boxes from this area are sitting in Charlotte, N. Car., awaiting inspection and overseas shipping early in 2014 to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Uganda, Sudan, The Philippines, Haiti and more than 100 other countries ravaged by war, famine or natural disaster.
Charles went to Uganda in 2012. Ann will go to the Philippines in May to distribute the packages to needy children.
Palmer said when he was in Uganda, children were selected by churches and missions to come to a church and receive the boxes, but others who were not invited peered in the windows to see what was happening.
“The children who did not get boxes are the ones who inspire us to keep doing this,” he said. “They’re the ones who break our hearts because we didn’t have a gift for them, because the need is so much greater than what we’re able to do.”
The program is still the world’s largest Evangelical charity for children in the world. Roughly 1 million shoeboxes are prepared every year in the United States, and still millions more come from other countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Finland, and Canada, among others.
Last year, the program surpassed the 100-million box count.
Palmer said the program gives children some hope but also introduces them to the Gospels.
“It’s basically that we give the child a gift showing the love of Jesus, and they get a booklet in their own language telling his story,” he said.
“Then there’s a follow-up program too, teaching 12 lessons of discipleship for the child to learn more and witness to family and friends and spread the Gospel.”
Residents can still get involved by building a box online at www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child. Through an online tool, participants can send shoebox gifts to children in some of the hardest-to-reach countries.
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.