Two area churches worked this week to collect items for charity projects, one local and one international.
St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1919 Wyatt Ave., Stevens Point, continued collecting food and getting organized for its fourth annual Thanksgiving Basket Charity Event, which will be held at the church from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 17.
Volunteers at Woodlands Church, 190 Hoover Ave., Plover, started collecting toy-filled shoeboxes destined for needy children overseas Monday, Nov. 12, as part of Operation Christmas Child. Woodlands Church is the collection center for the North Central Wisconsin region and shoeboxes can continue to be dropped off there through 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
People preregistered to receive baskets as part of the St. Paul Thanksgiving basket event will be able to collect them from the church Saturday, Nov. 17.
“The goal of this project is to give each family everything they need to prepare a Thanksgiving meal in their own home,” said Jenny Worzella, who coordinates the event for the church. “The hope is that by providing these baskets, it will give these families the opportunity to forget their problems for just one day and spend the day focusing on the blessings God has provided them with the members of their family.”
Worzella said about 50 volunteers help organize and distribute the baskets. Food and funds are donated from area businesses and members of the congregation.
“Anyone who feels they are in need of a Thanksgiving basket can call in and sign up for a basket. Currently, all 350 baskets have been signed up for, but I still encourage families to call and get on the waiting list,” she said. “If there are baskets left at the end of the event, we will call the families on the waiting list.” People can call the St. Paul Lutheran Church office at 715-344-5660 to get on the list.
Each box contains an 11- to 14-pound turkey, five pounds of potatoes, two cans of green beans, a can of soup, French-fried onions, a box of stuffing, gravy, canned pumpkin, and a can of cranberries. “This year we are also handing out socks, mittens and gloves to the families as well,” said Worzella. “Day school students and church members have donated socks, gloves and mittens and we will be handing them out to anyone who requests them until we run out.”
Operation Christmas Child is an international effort operated by Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational Christian humanitarian organization based in North Carolina. It was created in 1990 as a “global Christmas gift exchange.”
“Locally, we’ve been doing this since 1999,” said Collene Ottum, collection site coordinator. “We did about 8,600 shoeboxes last year; I’d like to top 9,000 this year.”
The North Central Wisconsin Operation Christmas Child collection center is located at Woodlands Church and has relay centers in Spencer, Stetsonville, Wisconsin Rapids, Waupaca and Wausau.
“We have several churches in the area that participate, and they collect shoeboxes at their church and then bring them to us or one of the relay centers,” said Ottum “We have lots of Girl Scout troops; Stevens Taekwondo participates and they usually bring shoeboxes; some of the college dorms will get together and do a shoebox party and bring them in; and we have a couple of thousand people that individually bring the shoeboxes in addition to the churches and the social organizations.”
Each November thousands of locations internationally collect shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies, personal items and other gifts that are then distributed as Christmas gifts accompanied by Christian literature.
“Samaritan’s Purse partners with a local church to do the distribution, and so they’ll have a big party with food and everything and the kids will all come with their families and they’ll have this distribution,” said Ottum.
“It’s important because it’s a great ministry… Many of these kids they don’t believe anyone cares about them, and so to get a shoebox full of gifts that somebody they’ve never heard of, and a country they may not even have heard of, just shows them that they are a valuable, worthy human being, and somebody really does care.”
In 2012, the shoeboxes from this area will go to Albania, Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti, Niger, Kenya, Togo, Malaysia, Rwanda, Uganda, Colombia and Suriname.
“It’s a great deal of fun to do. If you know the areas where the shoeboxes are going and you have a family, you can take your kids. The kids love to shop for other kids in other countries, and it gives you a great time to learn about the culture of those countries,” said Ottum. “It’s a great way to put your own kids in touch with the wider world, and the fun of volunteering and the need to reach out and help somebody else.”
Participants can make a donation for shipping online at www.samaritanspurse.org to track the shoebox gift to see where it is delivered. “For those who really like to do everything online, you can go to Operation Christmas Child and build a box online,” said Ottum. “There are lots of ways to get involved.”