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Churches help Operation Christmas Child

RAND, W.Va. -- Homemade chicken and dumplings paired with green beans from the summer's gardens were sustenance for volunteers at Rand First Church of the Nazarene, as they began collecting Christmas presents for children in need.

"People basically live at the church for the week," said Pastor Gordon Killion.

For the past 18 years, the congregation has participated in Operation Christmas Child -- a program of evangelical relief organization Samaritan's Purse that seeks to provide children all over the world with simple Christmas gifts.

The organization sends kids colorfully wrapped shoeboxes filled with hard candies, small toys, school supplies and personal hygiene items, such as combs and soap.

Killion recounted the story of a girl who received a bar of soap as part of her package.

"She wouldn't use it, because she knew it would be gone," Killion said. "The little girl smelled it every day, and said it made her feel pretty."

Volunteers said they were touched by such anecdotes.

"It's amazing what something little can do for someone," said John Stephensen, who has volunteered for Operation Christmas Child for six years.

Margaret Hayes and Paula Williams spoke of their devotion to the project as the two packed large cardboard boxes with gifts. The church already received several long folding tables full of them by Monday afternoon.

"It means everything to me," Hayes said. "I just can't even imagine not having soap or a washrag. We take that for granted."

Williams is a Sunday school teacher at the church and said Operation Christmas Child hits close to home.

"Our children are so blessed and these kids have nothing," Williams said.

While these simple tokens can mean the world to a child in need, Williams said, there is a bigger goal in mind: spiritual nourishment.

"Yes, we might give someone a gift like this, but the gift of Jesus Christ is a lasting gift," Williams said. "That's something that's not going to go away."

The church is one of 10 throughout the region that are collecting boxes from its members and community, Killion said. The biggest contribution Rand First Church of the Nazarene makes is its organization and packing of the shoeboxes, he said.

"It's a zoo in here," Killion said of the process.

Monday was the church's first day collecting boxes, and it will continue to do so until Nov. 25.

Those who wish to donate can fill shoeboxes with small gifts -- Killion said a box could be filled for less than $25, depending upon how thrifty the donor is -- and bring them to one of the collection locations along with a $7 shipping donation for each box.

Shoeboxes should not have gifts that contain liquid or war-related items, Killion said. Boxes are sent to 130 countries, some of which may be experiencing periods of turmoil.

"If we can show some of these kids love in war-torn areas, maybe ... they could grow up with a new mindset," Killion said.

Area Operation Christmas Child collection centers include: First Church of the Nazarene, Rand; Oakwood Baptist Church, Charleston; Cross Lanes Baptist Church, Cross Lanes; Walton Union Church, Walton; Summersville Baptist Church, Summersville; Christian Faith Center, Van; Highlawn Baptist Church, St. Albans; Hillcrest Baptist Church, Spencer; Switzer Church of God, Switzer; Lovers Leap Baptist Church, Ansted; Mount Vernon Baptist Church, Hurricane; Mount Zion Baptist Church, Ashton; Milton Presbyterian Church, Milton; and Parchment Valley Baptist Church, Ripley.

Churches will take donations until Monday, but hours vary. For information, call the church or visit www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/drop-off-locations/

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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