ONTARIO – Heavy morning rain couldn’t dampen the smile on Elizabeth Dawson’s face Friday as volunteers loaded shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.

Dawson, media coordinator for the Samaritan’s Purse project, was one of several volunteers assembled at Freedom Ridge Church in Ontario as donation collections continued to arrive.

Operation Christmas Child volunteers packing a box.
Elizabeth Dawson (pictured right) has participated in missionary work since moving to the United States in 1955.

More than just a shoebox

“Operation Christmas Child fills these boxes with things that children need and want,” Dawson said. “But, the goal is to build disciples and tell them about Jesus.”

The operation, which delivers gift-filled shoeboxes around the world, is a project organized by Samaritan’s Purse.

Based in Boone, North Carolina, the humanitarian aid organization responds to the physical and spiritual needs of those in crisis, as well as providing aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.

Men lifting boxes into truck trailer.
Volunteers load packages onto a truck trailer Friday morning.

Dawson said shoeboxes are delivered to children in more than 100 countries around the globe by plane, boat, sometimes even by donkeys or camels.

National collection week takes place Nov. 13 to 20, but shoeboxes are delivered year-round.

Operation Christmas Child around the area

Those interested in dropping-off donations to Freedom Ridge Church, 2200 Bedford Blvd. in Ontario, have until Nov. 20 at 3 p.m.

Six counties form the North Central Ohio District of Operation Christmas Child, including Richland, Ashland, Crawford, Morrow, Marion and Knox.

“It starts out with volunteers in the churches, community groups, and individuals,” she said.

Dawson said the goal for the district this year is to fill 26,000 shoeboxes.

“Last year we filled almost 25,000 boxes,” she said. “This is my favorite week. It’s a joy and it’s all about Jesus.”

When children receive their shoebox, they’re also given the opportunity to register for a 12-week discipleship program, Dawson said.

“There are people trained to teach this,” she said. “When (the children) get done, they get a New Testament in their own language.”

A global endeavor

Dawson, who grew up in Jerusalem, said her heart has always been with missions, particularly global.

“My parents were missionaries, so I grew up with a missionary heart,” she said. “I’ve been part of this (missionary work) since I was a sophomore in college, since I came to the United States.”

Drop-off Coordinator Renatha Gilmore said the operation’s goal goes beyond a shoebox.

“Those (shoeboxes) are a way to get to these countries and spread the word of Jesus Christ to people,” she said. “You can’t beat it, because it’s something that lives with you all the time.”

Both Gilmore and Dawson agreed that meeting, or hearing stories about the recipients of the shoeboxes are some of the most meaningful experiences.

Operation Christmas Child volunteer smiles while packing a box.
Renatha Gilmore (pictured above) smiles during shoebox packing at Freedom Ridge Church in Ontario.

‘God knows where that box is going’

Gilmore shared one year, a volunteer placed slinkys in the shoeboxes, and the story which returned just months later from a family who received a box took her breath away.

Red and green Operation Christmas Child shoebox.
Operation Christmas Child delivers gift-filled shoeboxes to children around the world.

“A story got back to her (volunteer) a few months later with a picture,” she said. “A family used them (slinkys) and stretched them out to tie the roof of their house on.”

“Never discard what God puts in your heart to put in a box,” she said. “God knows where that box is going.”

Gilmore said Operation Christmas Child is an opportunity to participate in something positive.

“We (society) can be surrounded by so many negative things,” she said. “But, there’s good things going on in the world if you look for them.”

To learn more about Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse, visit their website here.

The Life & Culture section is powered by University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.

Community investment made this reporting happen. Independent, local news in Shelby and Northern Richland County is brought to you in part by the generous support of Phillips Tube GroupR.S. HanlineArcelorMittalLloyd RebarHess Industries, and Shelby Printing.

Staff reporter at Richland Source since 2023. I focus on the city of Shelby and northern Richland County news. Shelby H.S./Kent State alum. Have a story to share? Email me at hayden@richlandsource.com.