LIHUE — Puaala Akui-Ramos and Cheyley Jacobs are members of the Kauai Lynx girls basketball team.
But even though they were wearing their team jerseys and joined by their teammates Saturday afternoon, shooting hoops wasn’t on their radar.
These 11-year-olds were focused on filling shoeboxes with gifts for boys and girls around the world as part of Operation Christmas Child.
“It brings a lot of happiness to kids,” Aku-Ramos said.
“It’s fun to be part of this and help other kids,” added Jacobs.
About 150 people were at Breath of Life Ministries in Lihue for a packing party to fill 400 shoeboxes.
Each side of the sanctuary was lined with plastic bins of presents for keiki ages 2 to 14. There were stuffed animals, toy cars, dolls, balls, flashlights, school supplies, hygiene items, hats and clothes.
It was Kauai’s kickoff for National Collection Week that runs Nov. 13 to Nov. 20.
Mike and Christina Ensman are once again volunteer OCC area coordinators heading up this year’s efforts for the Christian program through Samaritan’s Purse that sends boxes overseas.
Both spoke briefly to the crowd.
“I’m just so pleased to see what God is doing with a simple shoebox through you guys,” Christina Ensman said. “These shoeboxes, when they open them up, show them how much we love them. They let them know that they are loved and not forgotten.”
“Fill the box to the brim,” Mike Ensman said before everyone was turned loose.
They did and they had fun. Everyone, it seemed, was smiling. Many of the OCC volunteers worn shirts that read “Good News, Great Joy.” Many wrote notes to the children to be included in their boxes.
Able Ministries, an outreach to young adults with special needs, brought several clients to help out.
“This is an opportunity for them to give back and realize there are others a lot less fortunate than them,” said Patti Marshall with Able Ministries.
Five years ago, OCC collected about 700 boxes on Kauai. Last year, the collection set a record at 2,957, and shoeboxes went to the Philippines, Peru and Indonesia.
This year’s island goal is to collect and ship 3,035 shoeboxes.
The Ensmans love seeing the program’s growth. More churches, businesses, community groups and individuals continue to get involved.
“Everybody comes together,” Mike Ensman said.
The children who receive the gifts own little, if anything, Mike Ensman said. In fact, most have never received a gift, he added, and live in poverty.
The Ensmans traveled to Colombia a few years ago to watch children open the boxes, which they did at the countdown of “three, two, one!” Screeches of joy filled the air, Christina Ensman said.
“It was amazing,” she said.
Since 1993, OCC has collected and delivered more than 146 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 160 countries and territories. Last year, 11.5 million were collected worldwide. This year, OCC hopes to collect enough shoeboxes to reach another 12 million children in countries like Rwanda and Ukraine.
But while the toys bring happiness to the children, OCC is about sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
Christina Ensman said each shoebox is a gospel opportunity.
“My main goal is to see those children saved and see their families saved,” she said.
Tom Iannucci, pastor of Breath of Life, said OCC is a great ministry.
“You might not think you can make an impact in the world, but our island comes together and each year it’s a bigger impact and we’re touching more kids around the world,” Iannucci said.
“You’re part of a missionary journey without leaving home,” he added.
People are encouraged to pack a shoebox, fill it with gifts for a child, and turn it in during collection week.
Breath of Life and North Shore Calvary Chapel are OCC drop-off points. Nov. 20 is the final day to contribute a shoebox. It costs about $9 to ship each shoebox, so donations are encouraged to help cover that cost.