A steady flow of traffic moved through the back lot of Watson Chapel Baptist Church Tuesday afternoon, bringing little boxes filled with lots of hope for children who otherwise would have nothing for Christmas.
The church, located at 5514 Pinnacle Lane, is the local relay station and collection site for Operation Christmas Child.
National collection week for the project began on Monday and will continue through Monday, Nov. 25.
Operation Christmas Child is an entity under the umbrella of Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational Christian ministry whose mission is to provide physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has worked with local churches in more than 130 countries to deliver gifts in shoe boxes to millions of children.
Susan Wamble, a local pediatric dentist, is the relay coordinator for the Pine Bluff area. Wamble, who has been on numerous missions trips, first learned about Operation Christmas Child through mission opportunities at her home church. She has seen firsthand the poor conditions of children in some third world countries.
“Most don’t have even the simple everyday items we take for granted, like shoes,” she said.
Wamble said many of the children who receive the shoe boxes have never gotten a Christmas present — or gifts of any kind.
“This is just a neat way to let them know that someone cares … a way to give them hope,”she said.
Operation Christmas Child is a big part of Wamble’s life. Her entire family gets involved. Her daughter has been involved for as long as she can remember. Wamble’s husband, Sam, also helps out.
“He provides the muscles,” Wamble said.
Wamble encourages others to make this a family project.
“The kids just love it,” she said. “It’s so fun for them to take a box to the store and pick out the items they want to put in the box and know that somewhere on the other side of the world, some child is going to open that box and be so excited about it.”
Collections have gotten off to a good start this year, with more than 200 boxes coming in Monday and 156 more by noon Tuesday. Wamble expects to get a lot busier toward the end of the week as donations from schools and other churches in the area come in. She hopes to have 1,200 boxes by the time collection ends at noon Monday.
“The main thing is, it’s not too late to participate,” she said.
For anyone who wants to fill a box, decorated shoe boxes can be obtained by calling the church at 870-879-1370. But other boxes can be used. Wamble said people can use their own shoe boxes — wrapped or unwrapped — or shoe box-size plastic containers with lids, which are good because the recipients can reuse them.
Some suggested items for the shoe box include small stuffed animals, shoes, flashlights with batteries and school supplies. These simple items can change a child’s life.
Wamble tells the story of a young man, now in his mid-20s, who at 10 years old received school supplies, which allowed him to attend school for the very first time.
“It made a huge impact on him,” she said.
Collection times at the relay station are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday and from 9 a.m. to noon Monday.
Some guidelines apply for filling the shoe boxes. Instruction brochures and information about how to track your gift are available at the relay station and online at www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child.