SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– For many children, the excitement for Christmas grows as the gifts start to get placed under the tree. However, for those living in third world countries, this is not a reality.
These aren’t your ordinary shoeboxes. Each is packed with toys, books, hygiene items and more to be sent to children in need around the world.
“There’s people are over the world that are in need, and we are able to put these simple shoebox gifts together and have them delivered to these children and let them know they haven’t been forgotten,” said Wendy Pierson, former area coordinator.
But Operation Christmas Child is about more than just gifts. It’s about sharing the gospel of Jesus.
“As we’re doing that distribution, and sharing this information with the kids, they have an opportunity to follow up and continue to go through lessons that teach them about the gospel of Christ,” said Dusty Oedekoven, volunteer. “Not only do they get the box and the goodies in it, but they also get this ongoing lesson that goes with it.”
This year is the first year that First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls is the regional collection site for the shoeboxes.
“They are giving us here just a way we can share the love of God and it can be so personal because we get to go and shop, so we can be a part of something so much bigger that God is doing,” said Lucie Oygard, drop-off coordinator.
They typically collect around 30,000 shoeboxes from the region of eastern South Dakota and northwest Iowa. That’s enough shoeboxes to fill about four of these small semis.
“People are very giving in our area so that is exciting for me to see that they give even though they have had some hardships,” said Pierson. “You know, the crops aren’t always the best here in South Dakota, they have hard times too, but they also know they still aren’t as bad off as people are in our third world countries.”
Packing a shoebox is a holiday activity that gets the whole family involved.
“My grandchildren love getting involved. I basically have a store in my basement, and they come and they help pack shoeboxes and it’s such a delight for me to watch them get excited about it,” said Pierson.
“I just like being able to go and shop and look for things I think a child would like. I have some examples here I like to send a doll, a little toy that they can hug and then also like bowls, toothbrushes, things that are harder for them to get than for us,” said Oygard. “For a boy, I like to deflate a soccer ball and then you can get other things in too besides the ball and a pump.”
For Dusty Oedekoven, the shoeboxes are more personal. He has been on 2 distributions in Mexico, handing these gifts out and meeting the children receiving them.
“That is really the fun part, is just to see how excited they are and to know that such a, you know, kind of a small thing for us to do is received as such a big gift on their end, it makes you see the value in it and you want to pack more shoeboxes,” said Oedekoven.
On one distribution, he was able to see the connection between South Dakota and Mexico.
“One distribution that we were involved with, we saw these boxes that had been packed actually in Phillip, South Dakota, so they included just some little notes and things like that. Now where we were distributing these boxes, I don’t think the kids could read English, but it was fun for us who were doing the distributing to see that and kind of try to relay that to the kids,” said Oedekoven.
A shoebox is a gift that keeps on giving.
“Just knowing that you’re enabling the spread of the gospel but also just these small things that mean a lot to the kids that are getting them, I think that’s the gift in and of itself is just knowing that you’re sharing this love with kids who may not have these things otherwise,” said Oedekoven.
You can drop off shoeboxes at First Evangelical Free Church now through November 22. If you’re unable to go out and shop, you can also build a shoebox online.