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Operation delivers holiday cheer

Nov. 16, 2004

By MINDY FERGUSON, reporter

A few years ago, a 4-year-old girl was found orphaned in the remains of a bombed village in Kosovo, the village's sole survivor of an attack. Her rescuers dragged her from area to area, but no matter where she went, the fighting wouldn't cease.

Eventually she was placed in an orphanage. Mary Damron, a national spokeswoman for Samaritan's Purse, found the traumatized little girl while delivering shoeboxes of Christmas presents.

Christmas
Robyn Kenagy | Lariat staff
A dropbox for Operation Christmas Child gifts sits in South Russell Residence Hall.
The girl wouldn't talk or play with the other children. When placed in a room, she sat on her stool, remaining there motionless for hours. In an attempt to reach the girl, Damron reached for one of the wrapped shoeboxes she bad brought, praying that God could find something in its contents to reach the girl. She pulled out the package's contents one at a time, showing them to the girl.

When Damron removed a pair of jellies, the girl's eyes flickered with excitement and Damron placed the shoes on her feet.

The little girl hopped off the stool, startled at the sound her feet made with shoes. When Damron left the orphanage, the little girl was running around the room, listening to the pitter-patter her new jellies produced.

Operation Christmas Child has reached 31 million children like this since 1993, and plans to deliver 7 million shoeboxes this year alone.

"I don't think, living the way we live, we can ever grasp the impact that it has," Marti Dietrick, Waco area collection coordinator, said.

Dietrick first participated in Operation Christmas Child in 1994, when her father heard about the program on the news.

"I made a box and it just kinda grew from there," she said.

Dietrick said her family is involved in packing shoeboxes. Each of her three children makes a box, and she makes many on her own.

"I did eight last night," she said Thursday, but her goal is to make 50 this year.

The Dietrick family said they have seen the impact of their gifts in thank you letters sent by the children they have shared with. Besarta, a 15-year-old girl from Kosovo sent a letter a few years ago, and Celina Tigbar, a 12-year-old with two siblings, sent them a letter in May of 2002.

"It's not going to bring them out of a garbage dump. It's not going to keep them from going hungry," Dietrick said. "But it is going to let them know that they matter."

Baylor University became involved with Operation Christmas Child as a university-wide effort in 2000, and university efforts have grow each year. The first year, more than 300 boxes were collected, however last year the collections totaled 814.

Sarah Brasington, a Marietta, Ga., George W. Truett Seminary student and intern for University Missions, said that this year's goal is to contribute 1,000 boxes. Brasington heads a steering committee of 14 students who promote the program and collect shoeboxes.

"We anticipate this year's collection to reach our goal," Brasington said.

To encourage student participation the Operation Christmas Child steering committee is hosting "Wrapping up the Holidays" from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursday at the North Village Community Center. The Operation Christmas Child steering committee will provide wrapping paper and shoeboxes for those who don't have any, on a first come, first serve basis.

Collections will be made until Friday, and collection boxes are located at the Bill Daniel Student Center, Memorial Residence Hall, Penland Residence Hall, Collins Residence Hall, North Russell Residence Hall, The Arbors Community, North Village, the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, George W. Truett Seminary, the Stacey Riddle Forum and the Zachariah and Elizabeth Bobo Baptist Student Center. Labels are required on all shoeboxes identifying the age group and sex of the intended recipient. Brochures providing these labels are available at the collection sites and through University Ministries.

Dietrick suggests soaps, pencils, hard candy, dolls and stuffed animals for items to include, but she stressed the impact of enclosing a photo, saying that many children become more excited about the photo than anything else. She said for older boys, including something for a girl is appreciated, because they can't afford to purchase presents for their girlfriends.

Participation's of Operation Christmas Child span three continents from the North America to Europe to Australia, and recipients are found on every continent, in 95 countries around the world.

Every U. S. president since Ronald Reagan has packed a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.