LIHUE — With just minutes to the 6 p.m. deadline Monday, Barbara Castillo arrived at Breath of Life church with an SUV stocked with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
It was her second and final delivery that day, contributing to the Samaritan’s Purse program that sends the gift-filled boxes to children overseas.
“It’s not just spreading Christianity,” Castillo said, as she transferred the green and red boxes from her vehicle to a cart. “It’s kind of a way to just share joy and we have so much that it’s a good way to teach kids how much they have and they should share it and go out into the world and make another child happy.”
When a child who has never received a gift of any kind finally gets one it lets them know, in a way they can understand, that God loves them, she said.
Besides, Castillo added, her family loves to contribute to the program for the simple reason that “it feels really good.”
Many agreed with them. Donations to OCC set another record this year, with 3,653 shoeboxes delivered to Breath of Life, the central dropoff point.
They even topped their “God-sized goal” of 3,635.
The previous record of 3,432 was set last year, which beat the record of 3,163 set in 2017, indicating support just keeps growing for this program.
“Overjoyed,” Mike Ensman said. “Somehow we expected it, but you never know until the last day.”
So overwhelming was the response from churches, community groups, families and individuals, that he feared they might not be able to fit all the boxes into the 20-foot Matson container for shipment to the processing center in California.
“But that’s a good thing to worry about,” he said with a smile.
Monday, churches wrapped up National Collection Week for the program that ships millions of shoeboxes to kids ages 2 to 14 in countries like Philippines, Peru and Indonesia.
Those boxes contain gifts like stuffed animals, toy cars, dolls, balls, flashlights, school supplies, hygiene items, hats and clothes. They go to kids who have little and for some, who have never received a gift.
The final day of OCC was busy as a steady stream of people arrived with more shoeboxes.
Elise Macomber wandered in with children Mya and Noa, each carrying a box. Some of the toys inside came from Mya and Noa’s own collection at home.
“Just some things to bless somebody else and other kids around the world,” Elise Macomber said. “It just seems like a great opportunity to be able to bless them.”
Christina Ensman said word continues to grow about both OCC and Samaritan’s Purse, which sent people to help families recover on Kauai following the April 2018 flooding.
Will Graham and Franklin Graham, evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson and son, were both on Kauai last summer for a crusade at Vidinha Stadium that ended up drawing thousands each of three nights.
Franklin Graham is president of Samaritan’s Purse and also came to Kauai following the flooding.
“That brought a lot of awareness,” said Florence Tavares, OCC church coordinator on Kauai. “A lot of people weren’t familiar with Samaritan’s Purse.”
Christina Ensman and Tavares visited churches around the island this year and gave presentations on OCC. About 30 churches came on board, another record. Some took 20 boxes, others took hundreds for church members to fill with presents and return.
Not a single church they visited declined to participate.
“The churches have been wonderful,” Tavares said.
Mike Ensman called this year’s response to OCC, “unbelievable.”
He noted that about 100,000 volunteers in the U.S. and 260,000 worldwide will be part of OCC’s effort in the coming days to process the shoeboxes and send them on their way to bring joy to kids.
On Kauai, about 20 volunteers led the way.
He smiled and shook his head as he watched the scene Monday evening.
“We’re just so proud of everybody, the community and all the churches,” he said. “It’s one person, one box at a time. Everybody is equally important.”