Each year I share about my children packing shoebox gifts for children in other countries. We send these with Operation Christmas Child (OCC), an initiative run each year by Samaritans Purse, an evangelical Christian charity that I travelled to Belarus with in 2012.
Every year I read the debate about whether people should join in with OCC as they are a Christian charity and each year it makes me smile when non-Christian friends point out that you can't have Christmas without Christ and is it really surprising that a Christian charity is spreading the message of God's unconditional love with a gift box and the opportunity to learn more about Christ if the recipient so wishes?
Whilst I'm totally happy with my decision to give via OCC and I feel sure they are not pushing Christianity onto unsuspecting children in other countries (I've seen a distribution with my own eyes afterall), I do totally understand that some people feel dubious and would rather give through a different charity and there are loads. Have a google of your local area and I'm sure you will find an initiative often run through organisations like The Salvation Army, The Royal British Legion or The Rotary Club.
Some donate abroad and if you live in a needy area then many distribute locally, last year I also supported Surviving Christmas, a charity local to me in Hastings, East Sussex.
|Writing her card to share with the recipient of the shoebox gift|
Two nationwide alternative charities that I know of are the Mustard Seed Relief Mission Love in a Box scheme who distribute boxes to children in the Ukraine and Moldova and also Link to Hope who send Family and Elderly Person boxes to Romania and other Eastern European countries.
I think it is important that each year when this same debate rises that I keep an open mind and research any new information that has been released. I was interested to read a post by Emily Joy who herself appears to be a Christian but sites seven reasons why you should not join in with OCC and some of them are the same boring stuff I've read (and dismissed for various reasons) dozens of times before - that Franklin Graham, the CEO of Samartans Purse America is an evil man with a warped theology (and frankly I'm not going to argue this one). However, it is Samartans Purse UK I support and I am fully happy with their conduct and have met Simon Barrington, the Executive Director.
It was interesting to read a couple of her other points. The first one being that the shoebox distribution interrupts the local economy and also that it creates reliance on white people to solve problems and these do concern me. I heard from Petronella, one of the Country Directors with the charity Heifer at a conference last year that it is so important for people to come up with their own solutions and then for the major charities to offer them ways to support them and allow them to make these solutions a reality, so I'll be doing some more research on this and talking to friends abroad on the front-line to see the shoeboxes are causing them issues in this way.
However for now, in balance I am really happy to continue. I've seen first hand what a difference a simple shoebox can make to a family. Some of the families I met in Belarus had kept their boxes from previous years as they meant so much to them and it was the only treat they had the whole year. I also wrote a couple of years back about Kymbat from Kyrgyzstan who had enjoyed receiving her shoeboxes as a child and I had not realised that another of the people I work with was also a recipient as a child. So it was a joy this year to welcome Bella (from Romania) and Amalia (from Spain) into my home so they could make some shoeboxes with my girls.
If you think you might like to join in and make a shoebox to donate through OCC then you'll probably find the following posts helpful -
Box packing Tutorial
Pack a box for under a tenner
Insider Shoebox tips
Creating a box with Wow in 2014
I'm posting a bit late this year, so you only have until 18th November to get your shoebox to the nearest collection point but if you miss this deadline, there is always Shoebox World where you can pay online for a box to be created for you and sent.
Here are our finished boxes this year and these photos have been included in the relevant boxes, so the recipient knows who it is that cares enough to send them love in a box.
To be frank, it doesn't matter if you fill a shoe box or not, what really matters is that you teach your child to love and respect others. To be giving and to allow them an opportunity to give without expectation of reciprocation. That is the important thing and that will be the gift for you, the gift for them and the gift for someone else.
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