Operation Christmas Child Shares Holiday Spirit All Year

Published 1:28 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Those who look forward to Christmas will be pleased to note that July 22 is near the midway mark — 200 days past and 155 days to go.

Yes, it’s July, but in the Farmville area, Christmas preparations are already under way. Members of the South Central Virginia Team of Operation Christmas Child are, in fact, as busy as Santa’s elves.

A kickoff event, “Christmas in July,” was held at Farmville United Methodist Church last week.

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Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, whose non-denominational evangelical ministry is based on the story of the Good Samaritan. After describing how the Samaritan rescued an injured man others passed by, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” By sending gift-filled “shoeboxes” to children in developing and Third World countries, OCC contributes to that mission.

“The Christmas in July event was to fold boxes and make different craft items to be packed in the boxes,” Farmville UMC Minister of Discipleship the Rev. Lyndsie Blakely said.

Suggested items for shoebox gifts include toothbrushes (no toothpaste), Ivory soap, Matchbox cars, stuffed animals, flip flops for ages 2-14, school supplies, crayons and wooden pencils. There are practical reasons for some items. Ivory soap, for instance, floats and can easily be spotted while bathing in a stream or lake.

“With Operation Christmas Child, each box is delivered along with a discipleship program in the language of the child receiving it to teach about God’s love and grace,” Blakely said.

God’s love and grace in a box, as it were.

OCC’s ministry around the world obviously appeals to Southside Virginia. The South Central Virginia Team includes five counties: Buckingham, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward. Cumberland County churches are part of another group, the Richmond West Team.

Sarah Stokes, of Farmville, is coordinator for the SCV team.

“We work with over 100 churches,” Stokes said. “We really work year-round, to maintain local interest and to add new people to our team.”

In 2014 the South Central Virginia Team collected 13,700 boxes.

This year Heritage Baptist Church will serve as the Farmville area Collection Center. Other relay centers include: Bethlehem Baptist, Dillwyn; Crenshaw United Methodist, Blackstone; and Ash Camp Baptist, Keysville. National Collection Week is set for Nov. 16-23, and a community packing party for middle and upper school youth is scheduled for Oct. 24 at Fuqua School.

“A box can easily be put together, including shipping, for $20 — bargain shoppers can do it for less,” Stokes said. “Now is the perfect time to get started on a box with school supplies on sale.”

A $7 shipping fee is requested with each box.

Paying online, Stokes added, allows shoebox gift givers to track their box to the recipient country — like following Santa on Christmas Eve.

The Farmville Collection Center’s goal for 2015 is 15,700 boxes. Loading boxes on a tractor-trailer, Stokes said, also requires volunteer manpower.

“In previous years we’ve had some terrific local help from the Longwood golf team, the HSC baseball and basketball teams, and the Fuqua School basketball team,” Stokes said.

The SCV team coordinator would like to add more helpers to the team. Now, she added, is the time to volunteer.

We agree. What better way to beat the heat than to plan for Christmas!

Operation Christmas Child offers holiday cheer in July with an added bonus — the opportunity to be a good Samaritan not only at home, but around the world.

(For more information on Operation Christmas Child, contact Sarah Stokes at (434) 223-8988 or svestokes@gmail.com.)