One good way to get into the Christmas spirit early

A child in Africa cannot contain her joy upon receiving a shoe box filled with Christmas gifts from America.
A child in Africa cannot contain her joy upon receiving a shoe box filled with Christmas gifts from America. Samaritan’s Purse

Today’s column is an early Christmas commercial – not tempting you to buy some big things you could live without, but suggesting you give others in need some small things – so small, in fact, that they can fit inside a shoe box.

Members of three Merced County westside churches will be volunteering the third week in November to collect shoe boxes filled with items that will make kids smile as part of a project called Operation Christmas Child.

The congregations of Our Father’s House and Westside Community Church in Los Banos and The Rock in Dos Palos will send the shoe boxes to children that might otherwise not get a lot for Christmas.

I heard about Operation Christmas Child from Los Banos resident Shelly Lackey. I happened to run into Shelly recently and asked her what she was doing. With great excitement she said she keeps busy volunteering with Operation Christmas Child.

The project was new to me, so Shelly suggested I go to the website that explains this nationwide effort – samaritanspurse.org.

Individuals get a simple shoebox, either one they purchase or use from home, and fill it with small items a child might enjoy – perhaps a small stuffed animal and some other things like a rubber ball or small toys. The items are packed securely in the shoebox, which is not closed shut but secured with a rubber band.

The box is dropped off at a collection point and then shipped to one of eight processing centers in the U.S. where volunteers make sure all of the items are appropriate. The shoe boxes are then taped shut, shipped out and eventually delivered to grateful children around the world.

“I love this project,” said Shelly, “because I am able to take part in bringing hope and joy to children in need through a simple gift.” Volunteering for this project for the past 20 years has not diminished her enthusiasm.

The samaritanspurse.org website provides tips on what might go into a shoe box. “Start with a quality ‘wow’ item, such as a stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump, or clothing outfit that will capture the child’s attention the instant he or she opens the box.” Then the website suggests other age- and gender-appropriate items.

The website also gives directions on what not to pack in the shoebox: “Candy, toothpaste, gum, used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; seeds; fruit rolls or other fruit snacks; drink mixes (powdered or liquid); medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.”

Interested persons can drop off filled shoe boxes at three westside locations during a national collection week, Nov. 12-19. Along with each shoe box, the organization suggests a $9 donation to cover handling, shipping and related costs.

In Los Banos, Our Father’s House (1005 I Street) will collect boxes Nov. 12-16, from 5 to 7 p.m.; Nov. 17, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Nov. 18, 1 to 4 p.m. and Nov. 19, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Westside Community Church (614 Mercey Springs Road) collects Nov. 12-16, 4 to 6 p.m.; Nov. 17-18, 1 to 4 p.m., and Nov. 19, 8-10 a.m.

In Dos Palos The Rock (1701 Leonard Avenue) collects Nov. 12-17 and Nov. 19, 9 to 11 a.m.; and Nov. 18, 12-2 p.m.

If you like this idea but don’t have the time or energy to fill a shoebox, visit samaritanspurse website and virtually pack a shoebox for a $25 donation, which enables volunteers to physically create and ship shoe boxes.

Anyone who would like more information can contact Shelly directly via email at occmercedmariposa@gmail.co.

Operation Christmas Child is just one example of many good things people in Los Banos and Dos Palos do to follow the adage, it’s better to give than to receive. The Salvation Army, for example, will be ringing bells next to red pots in December to collect money to help the disadvantaged.

It all encourages Westsiders to celebrate Christmas by thinking not about what else they can acquire, but about how much they can give.

Please Vote. Either at your polling place Nov. 6 or by mail before. Americans, like residents of so many other free countries, fought for the right to vote. It’s the blessing of a democracy, but also the responsibility.

Don’t let others decide who will govern you.

John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos. Email john.spevak@gmail.com.