COMSTOCK - - It is a simple shoe box, filled with what we consider to be ordinary items - toothbrush, socks, hair barretts, balls and small toys, hard candy - but the smiles of joy the box puts on the face of a child is priceless!
The program is called Operation Christmas Child, a project of the international Christian relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse. The project began in 1993 with 28,000 shoe box gifts hand delivered to underprivileged children in other parts of the world. And my how the project has grown!
Last year, Operation Christmas Child distributed more than 9 million shoe boxes to children in 100 countries. To date, OCC has collected and distributed more than 100 million shoe box gifts for needy children in more than 130 countries and territories.
First Christian Church in Broken Bow has been a local relay center for the shoe box gifts since 2006, and Fae Beaumont has served as the coordinator for the center since the beginning. She has seen the number of shoe boxes brought in to the site increase over the years, but one particular group has really caught her attention.
Wescott Baptist Church, located in the tiny village of Comstock, is a small country church of around 100 members. Yet each year they manage to collect boxes - lots of boxes!
The Ladies Mission Circle of the church got involved with Operation Christmas Child at least 15 years ago, and each year would send about 10 filled shoe box gifts. About 10 years ago, Julie Dockhorn decided this would be a good project for the youth group to get involved in, and she started encouraging the 10-12 kids in the group to save their money for the shoe boxes.
The church then took the kids shopping and they got to pick out items for their shoe box gifts with the money that had been collected. It was a hit!
Dockhorn says technically the collection is still a youth group project, but now the entire church gets involved. And it’s not just for a month or two - they take donations all year long. Each month they request specific items, such as soap or toothpaste. They have several fundraisers throughout the year, including a youth group concession stand at home ball games with a share of the money going toward the shoe box gift project.
This past weekend one of the year’s most popular fundraising events took place at the church - the Cowboy Poet Supper. This was the 8th year for the event, started by Pastor Don Schauda. And one of the highlights of the evening came about strictly by accident.
Dockhorn explains that one year the ladies had some left over pies after the supper was over, and decided to offer them for sale to those in attendance. One of the cowboy poets suggested rather than just sell the pies, they auction them. And the pie auction was born.
Everyone in the church gets involved in whatever way they can with the shoe box gifts. The youth group still does all the shopping for the items to pack in the boxes, and anyone who would like to help pack the boxes is invited to do so.
“The kids have a lot of fun - and they are very careful about how they spend the money and what they pick out,” says Dockhorn.
She says each year she has seen the number of boxes packed by the church increase. Last year, Wescott Baptist packed more than 200 shoe box gifts. This year they have set a goal of 300 boxes!
“I never thought this would get so big,” Dockhorn says. “It’s amazing how God works when people are willing to help.”
**For information on how you can get involved with Operation Christmas Child and pack your own shoe box gift, contact Fae Beaumont at 308-872-6044, or log on to the website at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ . Boxes will be collected at First Christian Church in Broken Bow the week of Nov. 18 - 25.