Operation Christmas Child: Small boxes making a big difference
This fall, Lee University’s annual Pack ‘n’ Stack event is celebrating an important milestone.
Twenty years ago, in the fall of 1998, the first Operation Christmas Child (OCC) effort was launched on campus. Under the direction of the Student Leadership Council, a variety of campus groups packed 270 boxes, far exceeding the initial goal of 100 boxes.
At this year’s Pack ‘n’ Stack, the total boxes that Lee University has packed should surpass 35,000.
OCC is a project of international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. According to the organization’s website, it is the largest Christmas project of its kind and uses gift-filled shoe boxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way.
On Nov. 12, hundreds of freshmen will gather in Walker Arena for the annual Pack ‘n’ Stack party, an evening dedicated to packing as many boxes as possible. Christmas decorations, snacks, hot chocolate and photos with Santa provide a festive backdrop while each Gateway class aims to pack the most boxes. The class that packs the most will receive a dinner with Paul and Darlia Conn.
Director of First-Year Programs Rochelle Mayberry said Pack ‘n’ Stack is special in its ability to bring strangers and friends together.
“The best thing about events like this is that they have the ability to accomplish a lot of different purposes. OCC gives our freshman class the opportunity to come together again for a common cause,” Mayberry said. “We get to make a difference in the lives of children and families around the world, and we have a ton of fun while doing it.”
The thousands of boxes packed each year at the event are prayed over by the students at the end of the evening before they are sent around the world. According to Vice President for Student Development Mike Hayes, the combination of prayer and the shoe boxes allows Lee students to have a global influence.
“We can do something locally that will reach areas that most of us will never get to travel to,” Hayes said. “With this partnership, we can have the kind of reach that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Last spring, Hayes traveled with Samaritan’s Purse to Mexico to see firsthand the impact that the shoe boxes can have. After each child receives a shoe box filled with gifts, they are given the option to attend a discipleship program, something Hayes said is essential to enacting genuine change.
“I think it is critical for us all to be thinking in that way: not just meeting initial needs but truly meeting long-term spiritual needs as well,” Hayes said.
Junior elementary education major Amy Satink said she had a similar experience this past summer in Cebu, Philippines. She visited six different churches and schools distributing shoe boxes.
“I have been packing shoe boxes since I was really young, so it was exciting to hand the boxes to the children on the other side of the world,” Satink said.
While helping with the distribution of shoe boxes, Satink said she saw how one young girl was sad after she found her box without a toothbrush when everyone else around her got one. However, when she reached the very bottom of the box, she found a pack of nine toothbrushes. Satink said the girl was so excited because she had eight siblings and she would be able to share with them all.
For Satink, this one experience changed her perspective on packing shoe boxes.
“I had never thought about packing more than one [of an item],” Satink said. “After hearing more stories from my team like this, I have no doubt that God knows which box each child needs.”
Satink said she was thrilled to be able to hand out the boxes, but attending the discipleship program afterwards won out as her favorite part of the trip.
“We were able to spend time with the children and teach them that they were made in the image of God,” Satink said. “I didn’t know that’s what they did after they passed out shoe boxes, so it was really cool to be able to experience that.”
Unlike Satink, the majority of Lee students will not get to see the children opening their boxes. Regardless, Hayes said he encourages the student body to get involved in this now venerable Lee University tradition.
“It’s a really good opportunity to be intentional about thinking beyond the borders of our campus and to not get caught inside the bubble,” Hayes said.
On Nov. 6, prior to the Pack ‘n’ Stack event, students will have the opportunity to hear from Alina Aisina, a recipient of an OCC shoe box, in chapel. According to Satink, hearing from those who have been on the receiving end of the boxes makes the impact more real for those who pack them.
“The box is a tangible expression of God’s love for the child that is receiving it,” Satink said. “That box you are holding is going to a child who is going to experience God’s love."
The Student Development Office will be collecting boxes from any upperclassman students or staff members who want to get involved. To learn more about Operation Christmas Child and what to pack in a shoe box, visit their office or go to the Samaritan’s Purse website.