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Operation Christmas Child box collection begins Monday

The public's help is needed to purchase items and fill boxes to donate to children in need around the world. Operation Christmas Child boxes may be picked up at Worthington's American Reformed Church, filled and returned to the church by noon Nov. 25.

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WORTHINGTON — Twenty-five years after children in Vacation Bible School at Worthington’s American Reformed Church assembled its first boxes of school supplies and gifts for Operation Christmas Child, local organizers are hoping this year to collect 3,000 gift boxes to send to children around the world.

Parishioners at the ARC will gather after church Sunday for a packing party, boxing up donations that have been collected throughout the past year for Operation Christmas Child. Starting Monday, community residents are encouraged to begin bringing their filled boxes to the church. The collection will continue through noon Nov. 25.

Operation Christmas Child was founded in 1990, when a father from North Wales saw images of abandoned children in Romanian orphanages on television news channels. Dave Cooke organized friends to help fill a truck with toys and drive it to Romania. Three years later, Operation Christmas Child had expanded to other countries, with 250,000 shoeboxes sent to Bosnia and Croatia, Serbia, Kenya, Rwanda, Russia, Romania, Hungary and Albania.

As word spread around the world, the idea came to life at American Reformed Church. In its inaugural year of participation, VBS children packed 16 boxes.

“At that time, we had to mail them to North Carolina,” recalled Joyce Klosterbuer, a 25-year volunteer and logistics coordinator for the local Operation Christmas Child drive.

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The boxes continued to be sent to North Carolina until 1999, when Sioux Falls, South Dakota, became a collection center. In 2005, ARC was able to have its own collection center.

“That’s when we started having trucks come here,” Klosterbuer said. The boxes would be loaded in a trailer and delivered to Minneapolis. This year, organizers have decided to route the boxes instead to Chicago, Illinois.

Last year, Operation Christmas Child donors packed and delivered 2,793 boxes to the church. As a collection point for 10 drop-off sites across southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa, the church had accumulated more than 10,000 filled boxes when it was time to load the trailer.

Drop-off sites are located in Edgerton, Luverne, Marshall, Trimont, Fairmont and St. James, as well as the northwest Iowa communities of Algona, Meridan, Okoboji and Storm Lake.

“That was a new record last year,” Klosterbuer said. “I was very happy with the results.”

Of the boxes collected last year, children in Mongolia and Mexico were among the recipients.

With children in need around the world, Klosterbuer has a personal goal to collect 3,000 boxes next week for Operation Christmas Child.

“I’d like to raise the area one to 11,000, but we’ll have to see that, too,” she added.

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Martha Amaro, a missionary from Oaxaca, Mexico, who visited Worthington early this past summer, and then welcomed the American Reformed Church youth group on a mission to a village in Oaxaca six weeks later, has personally experienced the joy delivered to children through Operation Christmas Child. Approximately 200 boxes were delivered to children in her village in the last year.

“To be able to see firsthand many kids face when opening the box is priceless,” Amaro said via email earlier this week. “Every piece in the box has special impact in them. Some get very excited about toys, others about a colorful box of pencils.

“At the end of box distribution, every child receives also a colorful booklet with five Bible stories. Believe me, for many this box is the first Christmas gift ever,” she added.

Spreading the word of Jesus through the Bible stories included with each box is just as important as the gifts within, believes Klosterbuer.

“For many of them, they’re hearing about Jesus for the first time,” she said, adding that the Bible stories are shared as many as 10 times with family members.

When she traveled to Togo a couple of years ago, Klosterbuer witnessed the pure joy of children receiving Operation Christmas Child boxes. That has what has kept her involved for 25 years.

“It’s helping children who have absolutely nothing, and so they can learn about Jesus.”

People interested in packing a shoebox (or two or three or more) are welcome to stop by American Reformed Church, 1720 N. Burlington Ave., to pick up an empty box next week. All boxes must be brought back to the church by noon Nov. 25. The Minnesota West football team will again load the boxes onto the trailer.

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Items recommended to include in the boxes are school supplies (notebooks, pencils, pencil sharpeners), toothbrushes, a bar of soap and washcloth, small toy (stuffed animal, doll, Matchbox car, soccer ball or bouncy ball are some ideas), T-shirt, socks and underwear.

“The most important things are school supplies,” Klosterbuer said. “In a lot of countries, if they don’t have school supplies, they can’t go to school.”

Approximately 100 volunteers will help over the course of next week at American Reformed Church during the collection of boxes.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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