BELLEFONTE — Crystal Haagen spent last week with a group of volunteers collecting shoe boxes and wrapping them before they are sent to needy children around the world as part of Operation Christmas Child sponsored through Samaritan’s Purse.
The initiative is a global Christian outreach program aimed at spreading the word of God while providing tangible gifts to less fortunate children during the holidays.
Throughout most of the week, donation collection centers like Centre County Christian Academy received about 500 shoe boxes daily. Donations began last Monday and end Monday.
“It’s changing kids’ lives in more than one way,” said Haagen, Operation Christmas Child’s area coordinator.
National collection week ends Monday, when a truck filled of shoe boxes will make its way to a processing center in Charlotte, N.C.
There, Haagen said people will count, inspect and ship the boxes around the world. Anything, like glass items, that cannot be shipped will be collected and donated to local orphanages or other organizations.
“Nothing is wasted,” Haagen said.
Centre County churches and organizations such as Boy and Girl scouts and the county 4-H program have collected hundreds of boxes and sent them to the six collection drop-off locations in Centre and neighboring counties. The Penn State athletics department donated shoe boxes to the organization.
“They’ve been a real blessing,” Haagen said.
Last year, Centre County residents alone donated 11,712 shoe boxes filled of gifts, Haagen said. She did not have a final count this year.
“It puts things in perspective,” Haagen said. “We have a goal this year to collect 10 percent more than last year. It’s one of those things that anyone can do. It’s a tangible way to show love.”
Operation Christmas Child was established in the State College area nine years ago to help children in need as part of a larger national initiative, Haagen said.
As part of the mission, Haagen took an independent Christian mission trip to Lima, Peru, in 2007.
“I saw need beyond anything I could have imagined,” Haagen said. “The impact of something like this is a godsend. They have so much love and compassion and can’t believe someone who doesn’t even know them will give them help and love in something as simple as a box made of $4 worth of goods.”
Longtime volunteer Betty Bailey has been involved in the project for six years. She said she packs hundred of boxes herself throughout the year that usually consist of school supplies, soap and a washcloth, toothbrush and toothpaste, and candy.
“When they open this box, no matter where you’re from, the language of appreciation is universal,” Bailey said. “God is good in that way and works in miraculous ways.”
But the most important gift someone could put in the shoe box is a prayer and picture.
“The power of prayer is powerful and the personalization that goes along with it is priceless to that child,” Haagen said.
Shoebox gifts will be created again by the first of the year, Haagen said. Haagen, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Hublersburg, said she and members of her church and Operation Christmas Child are working yearlong to help make kids’ holiday needs come true.
Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.