Every year thousands of children are displaced from their homes by natural disasters, acts of war or poverty. Many of them are separated from their families out of economic necessity or have become orphans. The season of Christmas can be especially difficult for children who cannot afford to purchase their own clothes or hygiene items, let alone a toy or two.
To address this worldwide need, several Christian charities and organizations have developed special programs called shoebox ministries. This is a charity for children in need. Every year, thousands of volunteers agree to purchase clothing, hygiene items and small toys for these needy children. All of these gifts are packaged into shoeboxes, along with some money to defray the cost of shipping. Trained missionaries in foreign countries receive these shoeboxes and distribute them during special Christianity-based services. Along with the boxes, children often receive invitations to join a local church or age-appropriate tracts containing the Gospel story. Here's how to participate in a local shoebox ministry program.
- Some churches have already established local shoebox programs, but if you're starting from scratch you'll need some professional guidance and start-up materials. One of the most recognized is sponsored by Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse organization. To start your own, visit their website at www.samaritanspurse.com and look for the Operation Christmas Child links. Once you register, they will send you an information kit filled with promotional DVDs, flyers, posters and pamphlets containing address labels. Read over all of this material thoroughly so you can become the local expert on the program and fully understand what this children's charity is all about.
- In order to ensure delivery of the shoeboxes by Christmas, local participants are encouraged to begin promoting the program by September or October. Start by hanging up the posters with local information added. Ask your pastor for permission to speak briefly on the shoebox ministry, or request that the promotional DVD be shown to the congregation to get everyone inspired to help.
- After introducing the program to the entire church, try raising support among smaller groups such as Sunday School classes, youth departments, singles groups and senior citizens. You could promote the program as a friendly competition among groups or as a good service project for the youth. You can have a competition to donate toys for charity. Meet with the finance committee members or trustees to generate funding from the church's general budget.
- Spend at least one day demonstrating the proper technique for buying gift items and packing them into the boxes. There are some items which are strictly forbidden -- war-related toys, breakable glass bottles, flammable materials, etc. The lid and the box must be wrapped separately for easier inspection. Small plastic craft boxes with separate lids can be used as a substitute for traditional shoeboxes. Gifts should be age and gender-appropriate and represent a mix of games, clothing, educational and personal hygiene items. Participants usually appreciate at least one crash course on proper preparation. This will help them know what types of charitable gifts are appropriate.
- Set a deadline for the receipt of finished boxes. For many churches, it is set for early to mid-November. It is entirely appropriate for the church to hold a special dedication service in honor of the children who will receive them. There may also be additional DVDs available for viewing just before the boxes are delivered to the local pick-up site.
- Carefully pack all of the boxes and transport them to the nearest collection center, usually a larger church in the area. The shoeboxes will be accepted and an official count provided. This information can be passed along at Christmastime as a special thank-you for the congregation's participation. Once you've collected and stored all of the excess promotional materials and address labels, your shoebox ministry is complete until the next year.