Gifts, and hope, for children

A shoebox, says Lani Harthcock, can change a life.

All you have to do is fill it with love.

“They open the shoebox, it’s right there — the items they’ve been praying for,” she said. “There’s just so much joy in being able to pack a shoebox and know it’s getting to a child who has never received a present before in their life.”

Harthcock is a spokeswoman with Operation Christmas Children, which recently launched their 2013 campaign.

Last year, 750 shoeboxes were sent from Kauai to Indonesia.

“This year, we’re praying for 2,000,” said Christina Ensman, the coordinator for the Kauai area team.

The boxes are packed with toys, hygiene products, clothes, school supplies and anything else that might give a child joy and meet a critical need.

But it’s also about something more. It’s about faith.

“It’s a way to get the gospel into that country, when you normally just couldn’t walk in there,” Ensman said. “It’s really the gospel in a shoebox.”

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization, which has collected more than 100 million shoebox gifts since 1993.

An estimated 130,000 children worldwide received help last year.

“Through simple gifts and a message of hope, children learn they are loved and not forgotten,” according to a press release.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect another 9.8 million gift-filled shoeboxes in 2013.

The gift-filled shoeboxes are delivered to keiki in more than 100 countries by any means necessary — boat, plane, dog sled and even elephant. These are children, Ensman said, who have known war, abuse, famine and poverty. These are children, she said, who have little or nothing.

“When natural disaster, war or poverty strike, children are often the greatest victims,” said Ensman. “In these desperate situations, we want children to receive a message that God loves them and they are not forgotten.”

Operation Christmas Children gives them hope “to know they’re going to receive something they never, ever have gotten in their life before,” Ensman said.

About 20 people joined the kick-off a few weeks ago and Contributed photo

Kauai’s Operation Christmas Child Team Volunteers, front from left Hope Rabarg and Mike Ensman. Standing from left, Christina Ensman, Kat Olivas, Lani Harthcock, Anna Pacleb, Jessica Carvalho, Greg Honnold, Amanda Mixon and Laurie Lewis.

 is hoping more join in before this year’s National Collection Week, which runs from Nov. 18-25. Individuals, families, businesses and schools are encouraged to take part in this holiday drive.

“We’re trying to get the community involved to pack these shoeboxes and send them off,” she said.

It’s something, she said, people involved don’t forget.

Past higlights have included:

• Kauai keiki who have learned the true meaning of giving to others through Operation Christmas Child.

• Local volunteers who have been packing shoebox gifts for years and understand the impact a simple gift can make in the life of a child.

 • Project organizers who have dedicated hundreds of hours to coordinating shoebox gift collections in the local community.

 “It’s a powerful, simple shoebox that does a lot more than give them something,” said Ensman, who is also with the Breath of Life Church in Lihue, one of this year’s donation centers. Other donation centers for this year’s collection efforts include Lihue Lutheran Church, Crossroads Christian Fellowship and Regency at Puakea

Harthcock, a mother of five, said she encourages anybody to pack a shoebox and get involved.

“It’s a beautiful program and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It teaches other children how to share with other children.”

And there’s another, simple reason she believes in Operation Christmas Child.

“Knowing I can help a child to learn about the gospel and receive gifts they have never, ever had before, brings a lot of joy to me,” she said.

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