Operation Christmas Child packing party draws hundreds
McMURRAY - When Lighthouse Electric held its first packing party for Operation Christmas Child in 2008, employees stuffed 111 gift-filled shoeboxes for children in need around the world.Fast forward to 2016.About 400 people met Saturday in a gymnasium at South Hills Bible Chapel to pack 10,381 shoeboxes full of school supplies, toys, toiletries and encouraging notes as part of Lighthouse Electric’s annual packing party. In addition, people brought in 82 filled boxes.It is the third consecutive year the North Strabane Township company packed 10,000 shoeboxes or more.“People love the mission of Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child, and it’s grown because of the people supporting it,” said Anton Mikec, chief operating officer for Lighthouse Electric, who was inspired to host a packing party after meeting Franklin Graham, founder of Samaritan’s Purse, an international evangelical Christian relief organization which coordinates Operation Christmas Child. “It wouldn’t be possible without the sponsors, both by writing checks and by donating their time to pack boxes. We also thank the volunteers. Without their hands and prayers, there’s no way this could happen.“Volunteers for Operation Christmas Child fill shoeboxes with a variety of toys and items to give to children 2 to 14 years old.During the Lighthouse packing party, volunteers assigned to one of 10 packing stations set up in the gym filled the red and green boxes with school supplies, washcloths, toiletries, toys, stuffed animals, flashlights, and encouraging messages, while Christmas music played.For many children, the shoebox is the first gift they ever receive, said Christine Hainer, coordinator for the Southwestern Pennsylvania team. War, disease and poverty are a daily reality for many of them.“You’re giving them a glimmer of hope,” said Hainer.Southwestern Pennsylvania is part of the mid-Atlantic region, which has collected the most shoeboxes in the United States for the past five years.The region aims to collect 1.2 million boxes during the 2016 campaign.Colleen Paxton, executive assistant at Lighthouse Electric, said the company collects items year-round, shopping at sales at Walmart, looking for bargains at other stores, and picking up items during regular shopping trips.To send shoeboxes, people can go to packing events, fill boxes on their own and drop them off at collection sites, or pack virtual shoeboxes online.Participants can follow their box online to discover where their gift is delivered by using the donation form found at samaritanspurse.org/occ. People also can donate $7 to cover the shipping cost for each box they pack.Since the beginning of the project in 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories.Shoebox gifts are collected in the United States, Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and England.The goal of the 2016 Operation Christmas Child project is to collect enough shoe box gifts to reach 11 million children in more than 100 countries.The national Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive runs from now through Nov. 21.Collection centers in Washington and Greene counties are: The Bible Chapel, 300 Galley Road, McMurray; McDonald Presbyterian Church, 202 W. Lincoln Ave., McDonald; Oak View United Methodist Church, 160 Rolling Meadows Road, Waynesburg; South Franklin Community Building, 100 Municipal Road, Washington; and Trinity Church, 550 S. Main St., Washington.