Orginally published in the New Castle Courier-Times.
By DONNA CRONK
KNIGHTSTOWN — It’s early Tuesday evening at Christ Fellowship Church, 4833 Ind. 109, north of Knightstown. Inside the building, lively Christmas music plays. Tables brim with school supplies and shoes, clothing and toys. Children and adult helpers are busily moving from one table to the next, filling plastic shoebox-size containers.
The reusable containers are destined for under-served children around the world in more than 100 countries who will open boxes loaded with small gifts.
The project is more than a random act of kindness, it’s an operation – Operation Christmas Child, (OCC) a ministry sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.
Late October through middle November is crunch time, as the boxes are collected from individuals and churches throughout the land, and dropped at 4,000 locations throughout the U.S. to go on to global distribution.
Leads the county
Last year, Christ Fellowship Church filled the most boxes of any Henry County church with 233. Pastor Matthew Norman said the project is led by volunteers; Hannah Cordle in particular.
“It’s Hannah’s heart do do this,” he said Tuesday night.
Cordle, a Shenandoah High School and Ball State University graduate who is a chef at Primrose Schools in Fishers, is a children’s leader at Christ Fellowship, a church that she has been a part of nearly all her life.
She’s taken part in OCC for a long time and has led the project for three years at her church. She didn’t realize that the church was the highest contributor in the county until The Courier-Times told her.
Her reason for believing in the OCC project is this. “It spreads the gospel to the countries, to the children,” says Cordle. “Gifts are fun and all that but it’s temporary. It’s about them knowing the Lord and feeling loved.”
The number of filled boxes this church provides has increased on Cordle’s watch. This year’s goal, despite the challenges provided by COVID-19, says Norman, is to fill 300 shoeboxes.
Cordle explains how each box ideally contains a wow item (a bigger toy, for example), smaller toys, school supplies and a personal note. The boxes are filled with items appropriate to a given child’s gender and age with the boxes labeled accordingly.
Christ Fellowship’s technique is to view the project as a year-round endeavor, not merely a seasonal fall project. Cordle and her friends collect quality items for the boxes year-round when they go on deep discount.
For example, she found a great buy on cute sandals at a buck a pair. She spent $35 and saved $500 on full retail for the shoes. Another example is finding a buy on nice shirts for $1 each.
Cordle says it’s important to her that the children receive quality items. That’s where buys on seasonal-clearance sales come in.
A year’s worth of finds are collected, then spread out on tables as they were Tuesday when the church’s kids and parents arrive to enjoy a packing party.
A couple of the kids there commented. Said Kristian Tompkins, “I like helping children who are in need.”
Said Jackson Smith, “I like how we get to give people gifts that can’t have gifts.”
Pastor Norman said of the project, “It’s a good cause. We’ve been to Africa. We’ve seen where these boxes go.”
He explained how he would see a child who had never seen a crayon try to eat it before being shown how to use it, for example.
There are two local drop-off sites for individuals or churches to deliver boxes.
Both churches have various hours from Monday, Nov. 16 through Monday, Nov. 23. Call the individual churches for those hours.
They are: First Baptist Church, 709 S. Memorial Drive, New Castle, phone 529-2687 and New Testament Church of Christ, 752 W. Main St. Hagerstown, phone 489-5762.
All boxes dropped off at any of the collection sites will be collected by helpers outside the facilities, as COVID precautions dictate.
...Pack another box
Area Coordinator of Operation Christmas Child is Sue Bousman, 84, of Yorktown. She’s been serving in this role for 26 years. It’s been a ministry she and her late husband, Bill, enjoyed together, and her son plans to take it over.
“It’s been a passion of mine and my husband’s, especially his,” she says. In fact, instead of flowers for his funeral, people were asked to bring shoeboxes.
Last year, in the East Central Indiana district alone, 12,000 boxes were processed. They fed into the 10.9 million boxes that were distributed to children in more than 100 countries.
Bousman family members got together this year to remember Bill a year after his passing by having a packing party for OCC. Sue said 39 family members including Bill’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came and packed 85 boxes.
Sue told her grandchildren, “Your grandpa would not want you to cry. He would want you to pack another box.”