CRESTVIEW — Thousands of shoebox gift packages will be delivered this year through the work of Florida residents.
Okaloosa and Walton County contributors sent off 11,785 shoeboxes filled with gifts and information on God's love for the Operation Christmas Child program by Samaritan's Purse International Relief. The organization then delivers those packages to children in need around the globe.
Patty Hill, media relations volunteer for Okaloosa and Walton counties, said boxes totaled 10,487 last year, and this year's contributors surpassed the Northwest Florida goal of 11,011.
"I was a volunteer at Joy Fellowship, where not only can churches or individuals bring in their boxes, but it's also where the two counties come to drop off all the boxes they've collected in their local drop-off centers," Hill said.
She had a few takeaways from the OCC outreach. One thing that impressed her was the level of work area youths put into the effort.
"I was blown away by the youth participation this year. We've had local youth working for the better part of the year gathering shoebox items, making bookmarks, blankets and bracelets. We've had local youth bringing in their change to help pay for shipping of these boxes. It's truly amazing the examples they have been for us all," she said.
She also was able to learn from some past shoebox recipients about the impact the boxes had on their lives, and what delivery volunteers go through.
"I think what really comes to mind is the risk that some of the on-the-ground volunteers take to get these boxes to (their) intended destination. We are so blessed in our country to have the freedoms we have, and it's easy to forget that it's not like that everywhere in the world. Most of the children receiving these boxes have never received a gift before."
Hill said OCC "is so much bigger than just a box. Every child receiving a box has an opportunity to learn about Jesus and what he's done for us all. I believe that getting our children involved in this ministry will have a huge payoff later. Children around the world sharing the love of Christ with each other could possibly affect the next generation's way of life.
"We also had members of the 7th Special Forces Group volunteer in the loading of all the shipping boxes on the last day of collection. We couldn't have ended the season any better," Hill said.