By Valerie Baldowski
Area residents are mobilizing to make the holiday season merrier for children around the globe, who otherwise might receive nothing for Christmas.
Operation Christmas Child is in progress, and donors are packing specially wrapped shoeboxes with small gift items, to drop off at local churches. One drop-off point for Operation Christmas Child, Pinecrest Baptist Church in McDonough, collected thousands of boxes brought by other metro area churches.
On Monday, volunteers at the church were busily unloading the shoebox donations -- brought in tractor trailers, as well as in personal vehicles -- and bringing them into the church foyer. The donations came from area relay centers, from other churches, and from Creekside Christian Academy, the school affiliated with Pinecrest Baptist, said Jim English, a member of Pinecrest Baptist, and one of the volunteers unloading trucks.
Volunteers took part in a brief prayer over the shoeboxes, before they were packed in large cardboard cartons for shipping.
The church began accepting donations on Nov. 15, and set its sights on collecting 6,200 shoeboxes, English said.
"That was the goal for our church itself. For the whole area, it's 25,000. We're probably up around 15,000 [shoeboxes] already," he said.
English explained the boxes are collected, then taken to the processing facility in Atlanta, where they are shipped around the world. "Our general region usually [sends them] to India...Some of these may wind up in Haiti," continued English.
The outreach, he said, is a way "to give a child a Christmas that he or she would never get," added English. As I've traveled abroad, [I've] been in villages where they have absolutely nothing. One little simple shoebox is a powerful gift."
As of Monday afternoon, all 15,000 shoeboxes were in trucks parked at the church, but English said about 8,300 shoeboxes were scheduled to be taken to the Operation Christmas Child processing facility that day. The remaining boxes are scheduled to be shipped out on Tuesday, he added.
Some of the churches sending the boxes to Pinecrest Baptist included the First Baptist churches of Griffin, Locust Grove, Jonesboro, and Barnesville, as well as Monticello Baptist, Mansfield Baptist in Mansfield, Ga., Smyrna Presbyterian in Conyers, and New Hope Baptist in Fayetteville, said English.
His wife, Karen, was helping unload donations from a truck.
This year marks her third year participating in Operation Christmas Child, and past donors have been all ages, she said. "We've probably had someone come in here, probably 90 years old," said Karen English.
The youngest donors have included toddlers, she said. "They'll bring little babies in here. They'll bring 2-year-olds in here," continued Karen English. She said the experience is educational for youngsters who make a donation.
"It really teaches them that it's not really what they want. It teaches them to give to others," added Karen English. "There's other children in other countries that don't have anything. It helps them to really appreciate, and not take for granted, what they have."
The purpose of the holiday collection is to win children to Jesus Christ, said Louise Collett, one of the volunteers.
"For some of the kids [recipients], they've never had anything like this before," said Collett. "If you've been to other countries, we are the most blessed country in the world."
Camille Salmon, a junior at Kennesaw State University, was on her knees sealing up large cardboard crates packed with the small shoeboxes. Salmon, whose parents are members of Pinecrest Baptist, said she participates in volunteer activities at her college, but this year marks the first season she participated in Operation Christmas Child.
"I came home for the weekend, and my mom asked me if I wanted to come and help with the boxes, and I said, 'sure,'" said Salmon, 20. "It's
a lot. I didn't think people would bring in as many boxes. I figured maybe one or two, but they brought in truckloads."
Seeing the community response is heartwarming, said the college student.
"I think that's a good thing, because I like to look out for other people who are less fortunate," Salmon added. "To think of kids out there who are down, like 'Oh, I'm not going to be getting anything for Christmas'. They'll realize that there's people out there who don't know them, that care about them."