Operation Christmas Child is an international effort to spread the gospel and meaning of Christmas to children in crisis areas of the world, through shoeboxes filled with small toys and hygiene items. It's also a highlight of the Christmas season for the Calvary community!

Gina Aquilino starting packing a few boxes for Operation Christmas Child 17 years ago. This year, she delivered 300 to the KidZone hallway at Calvary, and then headed off to start shopping for next year's project. Along the way, her mom, a few family members, and friends will join her in buying hygiene items, school supplies, and toys for 10-14 year old boys that will eventually reach the far corners of the globe in time for Christmas. Why that age group specifically? Gina explains that this is the least-selected group for shoeboxes, and yet it is the one targeted most for recruitment to groups in armed conflict zones. By focusing on these young men, Gina hopes to reach future fathers, community leaders, perhaps even pastors, with the message of God's love before others can get to them. 

Valerie Alburger started packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child a few years ago with the thought that it would be a good opportunity to teach her young children about the needs of others. It has since morphed into a community event that encompasses many families, including a big group of children and Valerie's mom, who finds a lot of the bargains that fill the boxes. Throughout the year, the Alburgers and others collect items for the boxes. This past summer, they even organized a lemonade stand which raised over $600 to help purchase toys, hygiene items, and more, for children in need. All of this effort culminates with a shoebox-packing party, where everyone forms an assembly line to pack boxes for a mix of boys and girls of different ages. Meanwhile, children too young to pack color pictures to include in the boxes. The Alburgers delivered 208 boxes to Calvary this year, and Valerie's already organizing for next year's event! For her, Operation Christmas Child is a double win, a way for her own children to focus on the needs of others while simultaneously blessing children around the world with everyday items and the greater gift of God's love. 

We'll be collecting filled shoeboxes until noon November 20. Want to get more involved with Operation Christmas Child next year? For Gina and Valerie, it's never too early to start! They're both happy to share their know-how and advice for setting up larger-scale packing projects. Feel free to reach out to Gina or Valerie, or check out Operation Christmas Child's Facebook page, which is full of great ideas, too!