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Students, community members filling shoeboxes for kids as part of Operation Christmas Child

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Posted at 1:40 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 17:37:08-05

INDIANAPOLIS — As the season of giving ramps up, children of all ages at Heritage Christian School are filling shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, heartfelt messages and much more. They are transforming them into thoughtful and perhaps the first ever gifts for children in need around the world.

It's the global effort known as Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, a humanitarian aid organization based in North Carolina.

"The beauty of this ministry is children ministering to children,” said Molly Lawton, a retired Heritage Christian teacher and longtime volunteer with Operation Christmas Child. “They're packing shoeboxes with their favorite toys and their favorite little item in hopes that they'll get across the ocean in many cases or even in our own continent to be able to use with children in telling them about Jesus."

No one knows better how impactful a shoebox gift can be than Alex Nsengimana. He was a 7-year-old boy living in an orphanage in Rwanda when shoeboxes arrived in 1995. That was a year after the height of the genocide that claimed the lives of more than one million people, including his grandmother and an uncle.

“That was the very first time, ever in my life I got to receive a gift and that was an Operation Christmas Child shoe box gift and that was very special,” he said.

He was one of 250 children at the orphanage who received a gift that year.

One of the treasured items in that box: a comb, something he carried with him wherever he went for three years. Alex was eventually adopted by a family in Minnesota and is now a national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child. He considers receiving that shoebox one of the pivotal moments in his life.

“One of the miracles was that shoebox gift when I lost everything and almost everyone in my life. But God used that box to remind me that I'm special and He had a plan for my life," Alex said.

That plan included returning to Rwanda in 2013, to the same orphanage where he once lived, and delivering shoeboxes to the children living there.

He and the children at Heritage Christian encourage everyone to fill a box and to give a child something of their very own to make them feel special and help put a smile on their face.

Ella Freeman is a junior at Heritage Christian and is one of the students involved in the project.

"We all went shopping together and we packed our boxes and we prayed over them. We just wanted anyone who gets their box ... [to] be blessed by a fun experience by us," Freeman said.

Fifth grader Lukas Luepke raised money for his shoebox working by with his grandpa and selling fresh produce from his grandpa’s garden.

Among the items he put in the box he packed included a mini football, Legos and a toothbrush.

“I think they will really enjoy it. I’ve seen some videos of people opening them. Just the smile on their faces brings joy to me," Luepke said.

He chose to pack a box for a child between 5-9 years old.

The boxes are designated boy or girl and also separated by age group: ages 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. You are encouraged to include what they call a “wow” item, such as a doll, soccer ball or stuffed animal. School supplies are also suggested as are hygiene items such as soap, combs and washcloths.

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Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are packed with toys, hygiene products and other items for children.

Amber Best is the Area Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in Central Indiana. She helped deliver shoeboxes to children in Rwanda in 2017.

“Every child that’s a boy loves cars. All over the world, they love those little Match Box cars or Hot Wheels cars. I had a chance to go to Rwanda in 2017 and every boy who opened up a shoebox loved having the cars," Best said. “Children are children around the world and they love a gift. It was a blessing to be able to be able to put one of these shoeboxes, similar, into the hands of a little boy or little girl and just seeing the joy on their face as they opened, many times for the first time, receiving a gift in their whole life. "

Shoebox distribution to more than 120 countries begins in December and will continue spreading joy into 2023.

Heritage Christian is just one of many sites around the state accepting shoebox gifts. Collection runs through November 21.

Since 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has delivered more than 198 million shoeboxes. The goal this year is to collect 11 million boxes.

650,000 shoeboxes collected last year went to children in Ukraine after the war broke out in February.

You can find the drop off location nearest to you and suggestions on how to pack a box here.