Jennifer Hernandez is in the business of spreading love – not just locally, but globally.
For the past two years, she and Bridgeway Church, where she attends in Wesley Chapel, have been coordinating their efforts to help kids worldwide in what is known as “Operation Christmas Child.”
The nondenominational Christian project was first established in 1993 and is based in North Carolina under the Samaritan’s Purse organization.
Samaritan’s Purse is headed by evangelist Franklin Graham who had a vision to help underprivileged youth gain something beneficial from the holidays. Thus was the beginning of Operation Christmas Child.
Since its inception 25 years ago, more than 157 million children across 160 countries have received shoeboxes with school supplies, personal hygiene items and toys.
This year, thousands of other volunteers nationwide are trying to reach 11 million children in need.
From Nov. 12 to Nov. 19, a National Collection Week will take place throughout the U.S., where donations can be handed in at various drop-off locations.
Hernandez, a drop-off team leader, recalled her reaction when a fellow church member initiated the idea to the congregation: “It looked like a worthwhile cause.”
Now in its third year, Bridgeway Church has collected more than 2,000 shoeboxes and hopes this holiday season will not be short of a success.
Bridgeway is one of seven drop-off locations for shoeboxes in Pasco County.
“The entire reason is to demonstrate God’s love through this tangible gift,” explained Dana Williams, assistant manager of media relations for Samaritan’s Purse. “This is an open door to share with a child that they’re loved and not forgotten.”
The manpower of Samaritan’s Purse is spread wide, as they train “local ministry partners” in other countries on how to receive the gifts and distribute them.
They will typically set up outreach events in a town’s church, school or community center and get the word out to parents that there’s a special surprise waiting for their children there.
Oftentimes, foreign pastors who know their communities well are granted the task of handing out shoeboxes to the children whom they know are in great need.
While adults can set up the shoeboxes themselves, youth are strongly encouraged to be involved, to help them learn how privileged they are here in the United States, Hernandez said.
Senders can include a letter in the shoebox, which enables the recipients the opportunity to respond.
“It opens up a relationship between the child that gets the box and the child here who sends the box,” she said.
An online donation of $9 will grant the donor a “follow your box” tracking label. By attaching the label to the shoebox, the donor can track which country it has been sent to.
To make a donation or to look up drop-off locations in your community, visit SamaritansPurse.org.
Operation Christmas Child National Collection Week
Bring donations to help fill shoeboxes to these drop-off locations, from Nov. 12 through Nov. 19 (hours vary by location):
Bridgeway Church, 30660 Wells Road, Wesley Chapel. For information, call (813) 907-1313.
East Pasco Adventist Academy, 38434 Centennial Road, Dade City. For information, call (352) 567-3646.
Fair Haven Baptist Church, 34927 Eiland Blvd., Zephyrhills. For information, call: (813) 782-7115.
Details: Various regions of Pasco County and the U.S. will be collecting and packaging shoeboxes with gifts to send out to less fortunate children. For other drop-off locations and more information, visit SamaritansPurse.org.
Published November 7, 2018