Samaritan's Purse Outreach to Children in Need (January 14, 2013)

Written by Karen Stiller

Published by Maranatha News on Monday, January 14, 2013

Is Batman scary or not? That was the discussion that erupted at our "pod" at the Operation Christmas Child shoe box processing centre in Waterloo, Ont. My daughter Holly and I - who, living in a house with a lot of Batman lovers - fell into the "not scary" camp, were volunteers for a four-hour shift of inspecting a handful of the hundreds of thousands of shoe boxes crammed (and I do mean crammed) with goodies for Samaritan's Purse annual outreach to children in need around the world. Last year alone 350,000 boxes were processed through this very centre, set up for its temporary, loving ministry.

On this day, our 12 noon to 4:00pm shift processed 7742 boxes, preparing them to be shipped off around the world. Samaritan's Purse does it right. Our crew arrived at the centre, checked in and then were trained on shoe box etiquette. The most important take-away from the training session: the integrity of the box. As in, protect it at all costs. Shifting items around from one overflowing box to one that is not quite full, for example, is forbidden. And if there is a soft, cuddly doll in a box otherwise designed for a little boy, leave it! The child it is heading for probably has a sister who will love it. "Respect the process. Respect the shoe box," we are told. The assumption here, in this cavernous space full of cheerful people, is that God knows who will get this box, even if we don't. And stories abound about the right box reaching the right hands time and time again. The process is patient, prayerful and actually pretty fun.

Each item is carefully removed from the shoe box (one box at a time) and set to the right of each box by the person playing the role of "inspector." Then, each item is just as carefully placed back in, with the exception of items that are not permitted past this stage: things like war toys; chocolate that can melt; liquid that can spill and worn or used items. Those items are carefully stowed away under the work stations for charities that apply to receive the items that don't make the OCC cut.

I am told by Paula Schneider, the OCC manager that tours us around the centre on our 15-minute break, that almost 6000 volunteers will pass through these doors in three weeks. We pass through the "shoe box hospital" where boxes torn or half-empty are sent from the pods for fixing up and filling up. There are mountains of cardboard boxes filling this ward of wonder, things like knitted teddy bears lovingly crafted all year long for this very purpose. Other boxes are labelled bunny felt kits, marbles, stuffies and blankets. It's not quite the North Pole, but I can't imagine I've been any closer.

"It knocks my socks off and humbles me every year to see what people bring in," says Paula.

Holly and I loved our time in Waterloo, and our own mismatched socks were knocked off too. The afternoon ended before we were ready, with a heart-warming video featuring Samaritan's Purse's Franklin Graham thanking the volunteers. For me personally, it was a great afternoon in a year made great by a May trip with Samaritan's Purse to visit refugee camps in South Sudan. There, I saw the work they do far away from shoe boxes, providing food, water and some semblance of safety to refugees on the run from war zones. I like to think that the kids I encountered in the camps might receive a shoe box crammed with gifts, packed with love, double-checked with care and taped up securely in a warehouse in Waterloo.

Karen Stiller is the Associated Editor of Faith Today Magazine.