ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (Citizen Times)- Four-year-old Janola Simon was going to burst.
In her pretty pink dress, she sat at the Restoration Church clutching her red and green shoebox, waiting for the grown-ups to stop yelling “No peeking! No peeking!”
When Simon and 250 other children were given the green light, she tore open her box, grabbed and hugged a little sparkly stuffed fish, then threw it back and tried to grab the goodies out of the box of her cousin, Jacquon Jackson, 13.
Jackson was quick to protect his treasures, a bag full of pens and pencils, socks, a rubber ball paddle board, a notebook, a hat and a skateboard T-shirt.
“It’s like early Christmas,” Jackson said.
And that was the point of the massive Operation Christmas Child celebration held Tuesday at the Restoration Church for children of Barbuda who lost their homes during Hurricane Irma Sept. 6.
The idea is to spread hope to children in dire situations and let them know that someone cares, said Dana Williams, spokeswoman for Operation Christmas Child, a special project of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian aid organization based in Booneand led by the Rev. Franklin Graham.
The relief group was in the two-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda to deliver desperately needed supplies such as tarps, food and generators for Barbuda, which was decimated and left uninhabitable by the Category 5 hurricane.
The Barbudan children are all attending school in Antigua, although all are displaced, living in shelters or with family or friends. The children of Antigua will receive Christmas shoe boxes closer to Christmas.
Operation Christmas Child collects shoe box gifts filled with necessary items such as soap, washcloths and toothbrushes, along with fun items such as soccer balls, coloring books or handmade dresses, and delivers them to children in need around the world.
“We felt the children of Barbuda needed Christmas joy a little early this year,” she said.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 146 million shoe boxes to children in more than 160 countries. Last year nearly 11.5 million shoe box gifts were collected worldwide.
Helping deliver the shoe box gifts were Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife, Cherry, whose home in Wild Peach, Texas, was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
The couple had already been making and collecting shoebox gifts for years, with the help of their 30-member Grace Baptist Church congregation and in 2014 had delivered some in the Yucatan Peninsula.
“This year we packed 8,031 boxes with our church members. It’s impossible for us to do it without the blessing of God. With his blessings, it’s impossible for us to fail,” Mark Brumbelow said.
They fill each box according to gender and from ages 2-14. Items such as notebooks, crayons and pencils were included because in some countries if children don’t have their own school supplies they can’t attend school, Cherry Brumbelow said. Toys, such as stuffed animals, Yo-Yos, and Slinkies, are also a must.
“We sometimes put in hammers and tape measures for the older boys, sewing kits, soccer balls that inflate, handmade dresses. There’s no two alike. They’re like snowflakes,” Cherry Brumbelow said.
At every Christmas shoebox distribution around the world, there is a party atmosphere, with gospel singing, sometimes dancing, a lot of screaming, and an impassioned sermon.
Devon Rachae, the national coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child in Grenada, was the pastor leading the charge last week, as excited as the children, he yelled, “Let’s scream!” and led a chanting of “Jesus! Jesus!”
Rachae said he also cries at every distribution because the Christmas shoebox and the Slinky he received at age 12 changed his life forever.
He was one of four children who grew up with their mother in extreme poverty on the Caribbean island of Grenada.
“For us, getting a Christmas gift was not something we never had,” said Rachae, who developed an interest in the church after receiving the gift, become his island’s youngest senator at age 22, and is now the pastor of two churches.
As a child, he also lived through Hurricane Ivan in 2004, which decimated Grenada, and knows intimately the trauma the Barbudan children are living through.
“They receive this shoebox and never know what will happen, how it will change their life,” Rachae said.
Want to help?
National Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Collection Week is Nov. 13–20. There are many drop-off sites across Asheville. For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.
The children of Barbuda were displaced from their homes after Hurricane Irma. Operation Christmas Child boxes were delivered to them in Antigua by Samaritan’s Purse. Angela Wilhelmfirstname.lastname@example.org
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