Members of area churches were busy in November readying shoeboxes for the Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas program. This year, Operation Christmas Child aims to collect and ship shoe boxes filled with gifts for some 8 million children. Since 1993, some 86 million boxes have been distributed in more than 130 countries.
Operation Christmas is part of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to the poor, the sick and the suffering around the world. Franklin Graham, the eldest son of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham, serves as President and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse.
Locally, two teens adopted from Guatemala, Jaki and Graham Steward of Trappe, regularly received Operation Christmas boxes each year while in a Guatemalan Children’s Home. Both children were adopted by Dawn and Gregg Steward, teachers at Chesapeake Christian School in Easton. This year, the school’s faculty and students packaged 149 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas.
Jaki Steward, age 16, comments, “God shows us that a simple box shares love and joy.” She adds, “I used to look forward to getting my shoebox every Christmas Eve, because I knew someone prepared it just for me and it would be filled with special goodies, like candy, small toys, stuffed animals, coloring books, crayons, even a new toothbrush, toothpaste, a new washcloth and soap.”
Graham Steward, Jaki’s 15-year old brother, who was adopted from the same Children’s Home, recalls, “I remember when I would open my Christmas box, it would mean a lot to me because we didn’t get things often. I would hold it close to my chest and think it was from someone who loved me.”
Jaki explains that in addition to the items in the shoeboxes, she and Graham added letters and pictures of themselves to the boxes they sent so the children who received the boxes would know who they were from. Each box also often included a check for $7 or more to help cover shipping and other project costs. Jaki has shared her story with five area churches to encourage church participation in this project.
This year, 1,717 boxes were collected by Brian and Kay Spence of Talbot Bible Church in Easton, one of collection centers for Operation Christmas on the Mid Shore. Kay commented that this year’s collection was the largest they have ever had and that the regional collection site in Seaford, DE, where they transported the boxes, reported an 11 percent increase in boxes this year. Chick-fil-A in Easton provided many of the shoeboxes for Mid Shore churches that participated in Operation Christmas this year.
Photo Caption: Pictured left to right are Jaki and Graham Steward, children of Dawn and Gregg Steward of Trappe, packaging their Operation Christmas boxes. The Christmas boxes hold special meaning for Jaki and Graham, who were once recipients of Operation Christmas shoeboxes while in a Guatemalan Children’s Home before being adopted by the Stewards.