Thinking inside the box

Daily Reporter staff writer

GREENFIELD — Scenes of children beaming and squealing over their Christmas presents made an impression on some local teenagers gathered with their church youth group.

Especially because each child’s total number of gifts could be contained in a single shoe box.

Brooke Mills, 16, said what struck her most about a video of children opening their shoe boxes full of presents was hearing that the children probably hadn’t had toys before that moment.

“It was cool how happy they were to get toys,” said Brooke, a junior at Greenfield-Central High School.

She and other youths at Evangel Christian Church in Greenfield gathered Nov. 11 for a packing party at the church, where they ate pizza and packed shoe boxes with gifts that will be sent to children around the world. The evening began with the group watching a video about Operation Christmas Child.

The annual gift drive is part of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief ministry led by Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist Billy Graham.

The shoe box campaign remains popular, surpassing 100 million shoe boxes delivered since the early 1990s.

“Everybody loves to help children in need,” said the Rev. Patty Franklin, who serves as dean of the church’s Evangel Bible Institute and coordinates the shoe box collection. “Very few people are against that.”

Evangel is one of two Hancock County churches that serve as local drop-off points for Operation Christmas Child. Individuals, community groups and other churches bring their shoe boxes to Evangel or to Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church of the Risen Christ. These sites and others like them receive the boxes during a collection period that wraps up Monday morning. The ministry estimates 2,850 boxes will come from the Hancock County sites.

Rose McKinney, who leads the collection drive at Mt. Comfort, said about 2,000 shoe boxes come to that site from a variety of groups, including church youth, women’s organizations, Scout troops, a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group and individual families who decide to fill shoe boxes.

McKinney has six to eight volunteers who group the boxes into cartons; each carton holds about 15 shoe boxes. Then they drive to Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis, where central Indiana area coordinator Amber Best and another team of volunteers wait to load the cartons onto trucks headed to Boone, North Carolina, near Samaritan’s Purse headquarters.

That’s one of eight of regional sites in the U.S. where volunteers process the shoe boxes, checking each one to make sure there are no liquids or inappropriate toys enclosed and enclosing a book about Jesus, “The Greatest Gift,” in the language of the destination country. Then boxes are flown around the world, where they reach villages by car, boat or even camel or elephant.

“They get to where they’re going in very interesting ways,” Best said.

When boxes arrive in a community, local churches play host to a party for area children, where they receive the gifts. Those who wish to can sign up for a 12-lesson Bible study, “The Greatest Journey.”

Best said that in a group meeting for regional volunteers she learned someone had done the math on the results of the shoe box distribution and the follow-up classes.

“It averaged to a child coming to Christ every 27 seconds,” she said.

That personal impact is a statistic not lost on Jeff Weiland, who said though shoe box recipients number in the millions, “every single one of those is an individual kid that God knows.”

Weiland leads the AWANA children’s program that meets at Brandywine Community Church. Children in the program brought items in the weeks leading up to a packing night there. One age group brought small toys and hard candy; one brought school supplies; one brought hygiene items.

Together, the students of kindergarten age and up worked to pack the boxes one evening. Weiland hopes giving in this way holds a lesson for the youngsters.

“Our kids are so accustomed to ‘me, me, me.’ I want them to get away from the self-centeredness,” he said. “(When they fill boxes,) they’re doing something, and they’re not walking away with anything.”

AWANA children at Brandywine filled about 80 boxes on the same evening that Evangel youth, just a few miles away, were putting together their goodies. At Evangel, Madison Bailey was absorbing the video and the service project.

“I take my life for granted here,” said Madison, 15, a freshman at Greenfield-Central High School. “I just ask for a lot of stuff I don’t need.”

When the box she packed is opened, she said, she’s hopes “they’re just going to be happy that someone cared enough to help them.”

At a glance

124 million: Gift-filled shoe boxes distributed worldwide since 1993

11 million: Shoe boxes that Samaritan’s Purse leaders expect will be donated this year

100,000: Volunteers in United States who are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoe box gifts, part of 500,000 volunteers worldwide

45,000: Shoe boxes area coordinator Amber Best is praying will come from central Indiana

$7: Shipping cost of a single shoe box. Many donors filling boxes enclose that amount. The ministry, knowing some boxes are filled by children, also recruits donors to cover shipping for those boxes.


There's still time

Local collection sites for Operation Christmas Child will receive boxes through Monday morning. Donors are asked to fill a shoe box with gifts, including toys, school supplies and hygiene items. Here are the available drop-off hours.

Evangel Christian Church, 1221 E. Main St., Greenfield

  • Today: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Sunday: noon to 4 p.m.
  • Monday: 8 to 10 a.m.

Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church of the Risen Christ, 3179 N. County Road 600W (Mt. Comfort Road)

  • Today: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday: 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Monday: 9 to 11 a.m.

Online: You can skip a trip by packing a box online at

Where does it go? For those who want to know where their shoe box ends up, a tool online allows box donors to pay the $7 shipping online and print a tracking label to affix to their box. The donor later receives an email with the name of the country.

Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at