Operation Christmas Child
Local churches send thousands of gifts overseas
by Wes Mayer
More than 16,000 children in Africa will be receiving Christmas gifts this year thanks to the charity of hundreds of our neighbors here in Georgia.
Monday was the final day volunteers collected donations for Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse program in which local churches participate to help collect gifts for children across the world. For the program, participants were asked to fill a shoebox, or multiple shoeboxes, with toys, school supplies, clothes or anything else they think a boy or girl would love, and the boxes were sent overseas to children in need.
“Every time I see one of these boxes, it just warms my heart,” said Leesa Bates, coordinator for the local collection center at Unity Baptist Church on Smokey Road just south of Newnan.
Volunteers at the Unity Baptist collection center gathered donations from churches in Tallapoosa, Bowdon, Carrollton, Franklin, Fairburn, Greenville and Sharpsburg this year. In the cold and windy weather, volunteers helped pack semi-truck trailers with boxes from the local churches.
“This was just something I wanted to experience,” said Jim Sprayberry, a volunteer from Newnan and member of Unity Baptist. “I took the day off from work so I could be a part of this.”
At the end of the day, the volunteers filled three trailers with 16,472 shoeboxes, Bates said — their goal was 14,000. Last year, she said they collected 13,088 shoeboxes.
“Because there are so many kids who don’t get anything, it is great to give them something,” said volunteer Grace Duncan, a Smokey Road Middle School student. “Besides us, they might not get anything at all.”
Bates wasn’t sure where exactly the boxes were being sent this year, but she did know they were going to Africa. Last year, she said the local donations were shipped to children in Ukraine.
Bates remembers hearing a story from last year about a group of Ukrainian children who received their boxes in a ruined school room, and the room was freezing cold because the windows had been shattered by explosions. Out of all the children, she heard only one little boy did not have a jacket to wear — when he opened his shoebox, there was a jacket that fit him.
Another story Bates told was about Macedonia Baptist Church, a small 100-member church in Rayburn. Last year, the members donated only six shoeboxes, Bates said, but this year, they made it a huge outreach program and donated 954.
“That just gives me goosebumps,” Bates said. “If a small church can do that, anyone can.”
This was the first year Line Creek Baptist Church in Sharpsburg participated in the program, Bates said. Their church members were responsible for raising the most shoeboxes, with 3,638.
“They did a tremendous job,” Bates said. “I know they were so proud.”