How much can you fit in a single shoebox?
Those little boxes on average 15 and a half inches long, seven inches wide and four and a half inches tall will hold a few thousand baseball cards or old letters, maybe a few spools of yarn or a couple dozen DVDs. Whatever the use, the contents are limited to the space inside, but there is an exception.
When you fill one with the love of the human heart, the possibilities become endless.
Oh, the places you’ll go...
Mike Zurkan, Aaron Reinard, Larry Dunham and Tom Seth get ready to ship Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes during the 2012 holiday season. The boxes first travelled to North Carolina before being shipped to children around the world.
Operation Christmas Child, an annual effort of Samaritan's Purse International Relief to provide needy children with Christmas gifts, is about to kick off for 2013 and, as standard-size boxes of generosity begin to flood in, Patti Seth hopes the deluge continues to grow.
According to Seth, who is the collection center coordinator for the regional program collection center at Pleasant Community Church, the center collected 5,028 boxes last year.
"This year I'm hoping for 6,000," Seth said. "We've doubled since we started serving as a collection center in 2009."
Seth said Pleasant Community first served as a relay center before merging with Bethlehem Covenant in 2006 and eventually becoming the collection center for relay centers in Bradford, Corry, Coudersport, Emporium and Ridgway.
The center will collect boxes, either actual shoeboxes or standard-sized plastic containers, from Nov. 18 through 24. From Monday through Friday the collection center will be open from 3 until 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m.
Trailers will leave with the boxes on Monday afternoon, Nov. 25, for Boone, N.C., to be distributed to needy children around the world.
"The boxes don't get there by Christmas time," Seth noted, "but they'll be distributed the first part of the new year."
She said volunteers in dozens of countries, often at risk to their lives, deliver the boxes sometimes even traveling to remote children on foot carrying cartons of boxes.
Boxes can be given for the donor's choice of a boy or a girl and for the donor's choice of ages two to four, five to nine or ten to 14 years old.
Samaritan's Purse has some suggestions for what to put into boxes including: school supplies such as pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, crayons, markers, stamp and ink pad sets, writing pads, paper, solar calculators, coloring books and picture books; toys such as small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, small Etch-A-Sketches, toys that light up or make noise (with extra batteries) and Slinkies; hygiene items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, mild bar soaps (in a plastic bag), combs and washcloths; and other items including T-shirts, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights and a personal note, with a name and address for possible correspondence if desired.
Donors should not include used or damaged items, war-related items such as toy weapons or military figures, chocolate or food, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, breakable items or aerosol cans.
Samaritan's Purse also asks donors to provide a $7 donation to cover the costs of delivering the boxes.
"The school supplies are really important," Seth said. "No army guys, those sort of things. No liquids."
For older boys, Seth suggested tools and fishing supplies as well.
"Here, we don't think of tools for boys that ages as a present, but it can make a difference in a young man's life," she noted. "These things can help them sustain a living."
Seth said the most important thing to keep in mind when filling the boxes is to follow your heart.
"Sometimes, when someone's in the store, you'll get kind of a nudging that you need to buy this or this to go into the shoebox," Seth said. "I think that's God's way of saying I've already got this child figured out. God knows where each one of these shoeboxes is going to... people need to be open to that. The biggest part is the gospel opportunity that Samaritan's Purse puts into each shoebox so that kids have the opportunity to know Jesus."
Seth said she has high hopes for the program this year and pointed to the community as the reason for past successes.
"Having grown up in Warren, this is just an amazing place to live," Seth said. "It's just a giving place. Thank you to the community for all that they've done in the past. I don't think people will ever know, this side of heaven, what blessings they've given through a shoebox. If we're going to change this world, it's going to be one kid at a time."