Abigail McMillen is readying to receive boxes.

Have you ever wondered what it is like to receive a little box full of school supplies and a few small toys and be excited about it? For more than 20 years the folks in Pontotoc County have stepped up and provided gifts through Operation Christmas Child.

The concept of packing a shoe box sized bit of joy first started in 1993, with one man's desire to see children in war worn countries get a bit of comfort and joy, to lift their spirits, even if just for a moment, out of the unspeakable horrors of war and loneliness that they faced every day. 

From that vision has grown a world-wide ministry under the auspices of Samaritan’s Purse headed up by the late Billy Graham’s son, Franklin.

Pontotoc County is blessed to have two drop off locations for folks to bring packed shoeboxes to which includes Ecru Baptist Church in Northern Pontotoc County and West Heights Baptist Church in the heart of the county seat.

Abigail McMillen coordinates efforts at Ecru.

“In 2018, Our Drop Off Location was blessed to receive and deliver 1,511 boxes,” McMillen noted.  “Participants who dropped off boxes included churches, community groups, families, and individuals.  I would encourage anyone who has never experienced packing a box to get involved this year!  

“It is certainly not too late.  For those who have just packed a year or two, or those who have been packing for decades, keep going!  I would like to encourage each church, group, and family to pack just one more.  If you were going to pack 10, then why not pack 11.  If you were going to pack 1, then why not 2.  If you need an extra box, stop by during Drop Off Week and I will have extra empty boxes just for you!”

Drop off week this year is a week later than usual because of how late Thanksgiving is. It starts Monday, November 18 through Sunday, November 24.

McMillen said the week of coordinating boxes being delivered to her church is sometimes tiring, but exciting.

“From the very first time I was contacted, I have been excited about participating in this ministry.  I have been involved with packing boxes for more than a decade, and had often wondered how to get more involved.  I was curious about how Drop Off Locations were chosen and how I could serve in this area.  

“The Lord answered those questions three years ago with an opportunity for me to serve as a Drop Off Team Leader.  Packing a shoebox is a wonderful experience and knowing how the box impacts the life of a child is what makes this so important. 

“As a Drop Off Team Leader, I not only get to experience the box I pack, but the wonderful stories and hearts of others who are packing shoeboxes.  Each church, group, or individual who visits our Drop Off is a new story.  When I get the opportunity to share in their joy, their story of packing a shoe box, pray together with them over the delivery of their shoebox, these are the things that impact my life.  Drop Off Week for me is an exciting week!  It is busy, but filled with smiles and even some tears as we experience the Joy of ‘This side of the box’,” she said.

And the joy of sending a shoebox herself makes it all worthwhile.

“To me, the shoebox means the opportunity to share in missions from Ecru, MS.  These shoeboxes are delivered to many countries all over the world.  Each shoebox carries not only the joy of the gift, but also the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Each shoebox is taken care of by well-trained volunteers from this side of the box to the delivery side of the box.  Shoeboxes are delivered in local communities by local church leaders around the world.  Shoeboxes mean the chance to share the message of Jesus without leaving home.  The prayer time that is spent over each box is very important to me, because I know the Lord will use each box to share His Love.”

And the impact that the drop off location has to the people she is serving touches her heart.

“It’s special when first time shoebox packers come in and we get to share in this first time experience with them! Or when a five-year-old asks if he can pack a shoebox for Christmas. It’s also when strangers serve together and become friends because they volunteered to serve at the Drop Off Location.”

McMillen said there are opportunities in Pontotoc and in Atlanta to serve with Operation Christmas Child. “Packing shoeboxes is certainly the first step to getting involved with Operation Christmas Child.  However, this is only the beginning. Operation Christmas Child has year round volunteers that help promote the Shoebox ministry and help others get involved. 

“Seasonal volunteers are needed at Drop Off Locations and Processing Centers.  If you are interested in learning more visit samaritanspurse.org/occ  or pick up more info about these ministry opportunities at our Drop Off Location during National Collection Week.  We also take volunteers at the Drop Off Location, if you are interested, you can email me abigailmcmillen@gmail.com.”

McMillen said she has been grateful that Ecru Baptist Church can serve the community here and beyond with the drop off location.

“We have been blessed to have many churches and individuals visit our Drop Off Location at Ecru Baptist Church. This location is a middle ground between Pontotoc and New Albany giving many local churches a shorter drive to deliver their boxes.  

“We also try to offer different hours than our close neighbors, giving everyone daytime and afternoon times between our various locations. Each Drop Off Location is responsible for accurate counting and delivery of all shoeboxes, so this helps share the load between our drop off locations.”

Packing a shoebox is so simple even a child can do it. 

“Children getting involved with packing boxes is amazing! My personal children have both packed boxes since they could walk!  I have sweet pictures and memories of my kids picking out just the right toy or the perfect toothbrush for their box.  My favorite memory was when my oldest son, Elliot, learned to write.  He wrote 'God loves you' on each card before finishing his box. This still brings tears to my eyes as I think of how the Lord can use this message to not only bless the child who receives it, but also my son learning to share the Love of Christ.  

“I would encourage kids to pack a box for a child their age!  This gets them perfectly bought in to the idea, as if they know the person who is receiving the gift. Encouraging them to send their photo or a personalized card is also special.  

“There are also options online to "Build a shoebox" for $25.  You select the items and Operation Christmas Child will pack and send your shoebox gift for you. Another great way to get the kids excited is to follow the shoebox. You pay $9 shipping online, print the label, and then you can track your shoebox.  Lastly, bring the kids with you to the Drop Off Location.  We have snacks, coloring activities, and stickers!  We want them to experience the joy with you of delivering their box! “

McMillen said that while the goal for U.S. collections is 9.1 million boxes it is that personal touch of just one more box that keeps her wanting to encourage folks to pack.

“We always want more shoeboxes than the previous year, but my goal is that each person, group, or church would be encouraged to just pack one more than they did last year.  If you have never packed a shoebox, then let your first box be this year!  Do not miss out on this opportunity to share the Love of Jesus with others.

“Each box is one more child who is touched by God's love, which extends to one more family, and one more community.  It is the lives on both sides of the box. The opportunity here in Ecru to share in prayer with my community about shoeboxes and often this leads to sharing in prayer about personal needs.  

“Drop Off locations are full of smiles and laughter, snacks, and fun photos, but my favorite part is the time of prayer.  When boxes are unloaded and counted and paperwork is done, we stop.  The entire group of friends and strangers, stops, we gather and lay hands on the boxes.  Regardless of who prays, my eyes are full of tears because we are all asking for this box, each box, to be delivered into the hands of the exact child, who wears that shoe size, whose favorite color matches this toothbrush, who has been wanting this exact item, we pray for that box to get exactly to that child. That moment because we know the size and ability of our God, makes it all worth it.”

You can participate in Operation Christmas child Shoebox collection by getting a shoe box from your closet and filling it, or you can get a plastic shoe box sized box from the dollar store, or there will be some pre-printed cardboard boxes ordered this Friday, which should be available by November 1.

You choose the age group of boy or girl that you want to pack for which includes ages 2-4; 5-9; and 10-14.

The boxes are packed with a variety of things.  Toys that children will immediately embrace such as dolls, toy cars, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, balls, toys that light up and make noise (with extra batteries),  balloons and other simple toys that children  enjoy.

School supplies such as pens, pencils and sharpeners, crayons, markers, notebooks, paper, solar calculators, coloring and picture books, etc.

Hygiene items such as toothbrushes, bar soap, combs, washcloths can be packed.

For older children there are  sewing kits, hammer and nails, soccer ball with pump and jewelry.

Other accessories such as t-shirts, socks, hats, sunglasses, hair clips, jewelry, watches, flashlights (with extra batteries) also can go into the box.

PLEASE NOTE, no soldiers or war related items such as knives or guns are allowed and no candy or toothpaste is allowed.

Anyone packing a box is also encouraged to include a note with a photograph.

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