Spreading Cheer

Submitted photo Community members participate in a ‘Packing Party’ at the First United Methodist Church as they pack shoeboxes to be sent overseas for the 2017 Operation Christmas Child initiative.

Editor’s note: The Inter-Mountain’s Comfort and Joy series begins today and will continue in each edition leading up to Christmas.

ELKINS — For 20 years, Operation Christmas Child has been brightening the holiday season of not only the youth of Central West Virginia, but also youngsters around the world.

The Elkins team of Operation Christmas Child covers six counties, Randolph, Pocahontas, Webster, Upshur, Tucker and Barbour, and is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization led by evangelist Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham.

This year, across the six-county area, 11,461 boxes were collected, said Bob Cowgill, network coordinator for OCC.

“Those went to our main drop-off at Bowden, then from there to Charlotte, North Carolina. They are probably processed and on their way to being shipped now,” Cowgill said during a recent interview.

The boxes left Elkins in the late night hours of Nov. 20 and were in North Carolina the next morning. They were taken by two 18-wheeler trucks, donated by Kessler Trucking of Elkins, and the drivers donated their time to make the trip.

“Kessler Trucking again furnished the drivers and the trucks free of charge to deliver those to Charlotte,” Cowgill said. “We had two trucks — two tractor-trailers — and they left late at night on Nov. 20 and they unloaded them at 8:30 a.m. the next morning, so those shoeboxes are on their way to kids somewhere.”

Cowgill added that without the donation from Kessler Trucking, the cost to get the boxes shipped would have been detrimental to the organization.

“They have done that for several years. Kessler Trucking gets the trailers, they furnish the trucks, buy their own fuel and the drivers donate their time,” Cowgill said. “That is a tremendous help, because that would cost the ministry a lot of money.”

Cowgill said the volunteerism is overwhelming and makes the initiative possible, and he also commended everyone who helped by donating.

“I would like for them to know that the shoebox gift they put together is probably the only gift that child has ever received. It means so much to these kids to get these items; it doesn’t have to be expensive, you know, pencils, pens, a notebook, small toys or some hygiene items,” Cowgill said. “They are really excited about getting those kind of things, because if they don’t have school supplies they just don’t get to go to school because their parents can’t afford to buy the things. It’s the same with the hygiene items.

“I talked to one person that said they saw a letter that came back from a child who was so excited about getting a toothbrush because her family was sharing one toothbrush,” he continued. “It’s stories like that I’d like to impress on people how important it is for kids to get these things because they just don’t get them otherwise.”

Operation Christmas Child is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, using gifts of toys, basic items of necessity and clothing to spread the gospel to children ages 2 to 14. Donations help supply literature of the gospel that introduces a discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey,” which is placed into the boxes before preparations for shipment.

Since the beginning of the project in 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has collected and delivered more than 124 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. More than 4.7 million children have participated in “The Greatest Journey” program, implemented through a global church network.

According to the organization’s mission statement, “Samaritan’s Purse is a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to people around the world.” Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease and famine.

Operation Christmas Child also offers a year-round opportunity to pack personalized shoe boxes online. Anyone interested can visit samaritanspurse.org/occ to select toys and gift items, write a note of encouragement and “pack” them in a shoebox. To follow the box’s journey from the website to the country and child, there is a donation form available on the site.