Canyon Falls resident Cathy Ralston has always been in the giving spirit. Even before she joined Operation Christmas Child as a year-round volunteer a few years ago, she knew of the organization’s good deeds as far back as the early 1990s. And, on her own time, she was transforming empty shoeboxes into fun gifts loaded with toys, school supplies, and hygiene products.
For Ralston, it was a simple expression of love and kindness during the holiday season — a time when every child worldwide should have something special to open, even if from a stranger. And helping year-round felt like a no-brainer.
“I’ve been familiar with them for a very long time and had been packing boxes with my kids and grandkids,” Ralston said of Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse that has collected and delivered more than 198 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 170 countries and territories since 1993. “But it was always something I just did on my own. I didn’t know you could be a year-round volunteer. When we moved to Texas and retired, I wanted something to do and got an email saying they needed volunteers. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
She added, “It’s so personal. As I’m packing a box, I’m thinking about how a child somewhere will open what I packed for them.”
Ralston is just one servant-minded volunteer on a growing list of over 15,000 volunteers worldwide. Many of them are like Ralston and live right here in Denton County. And because of their efforts, Operation Christmas Child is projected to collect its 200 millionth shoebox this holiday season. Last year alone, the nonprofit collected 10.5 million shoeboxes.
They hope to collect enough shoeboxes to reach another 11 million children this year.
“The draw is that it’s something that anyone from 4 to 104 years old can participate in,” Ralston said.
Children need joy and hope especially today during a time of continued global unrest.
“Now more than ever, children around the world need to know that God loves them and there is hope,” Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a recent press release. “A simple shoebox gift opens the door to share about the true hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”
And to keep the giving momentum going, Operation Christmas Child announced in a recent press release that more than 4,500 drop-off sites would be open and collecting shoebox gifts during their National Collection Week, slated for November 14-21.
For Denton County residents, the nearest drop-off sites are First Baptist Church in Lewisville and Denton Bible Church.
There is also a strong push to bring in more volunteers. Dallas is home to one of Operation Christmas Child’s eight nationwide processing centers. That location is in Coppell. The organization is looking for individuals willing to work in a fun and exciting environment where they can be an integral part of the journey of thousands of shoebox gifts.
The contents of each shoebox typically include everything from toothbrushes and deodorant to clothing, coloring books, papers, pencils, crayons, and toys. Once shoeboxes have been packed, the processing center teams prepare each gift for international shipments to various church partners, who then distribute the gifts to children during local community events.
“Every gift-filled shoebox is an opportunity to show God’s love to children in need around the world,” Operation Christmas Child Senior Director, Randy Riddle, said in a press release. “You can be a part of this life-changing project by packing a shoebox, working at your local processing center, or praying for the children who will receive them.”
Ralston agreed, adding that she loves being part of such a worthy cause.
“I think the proof is in the pudding that this is a great organization,” she said. “I’m excited to do it every year, and I’ll continue doing it for as long as I am able.”
Interested volunteers can find more information and sign up at samaritanspurse.org. Participants can also find the nearest drop-off location and hours of operation on this website as they plan to drop off their shoebox gifts.