The warmth in Ernie Holmes’ voice readily reveals his passion about Operation Christmas Child.

A member of the United Methodist Church, the Arlington man joyfully talks about the project that assists in spreading Christmas cheer around the globe. But even more important, Holmes said Operation Christmas Child opens the door to share about the love of Jesus Christ.

An outreach ministry of the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which is headed by Franklin Graham, shoebox-sized boxes are filled with toys, personal hygiene items, school supplies and other gifts. In addition, people are encouraged to include a personal note of encouragement, a photo, Bible verses or faith-based messages. The boxes are then shipped to disadvantaged children in war-torn and poverty-stricken nations around the world.

Holmes said there are many worthy causes and charities to get involved with. He decided to help with this project because it includes an opportunity to share his faith.

“One reason I got involved in this is we live out here in the sticks and we see all the needs going on in the world,” Holmes said. “I can’t go where the need is but I can do my part in it by sharing.”

While Christmas is still seven weeks away, the project is a huge undertaking with a 2019 goal of providing shoebox gifts to 11 million children. Last year, more than 10.6 million shoebox gifts were created worldwide, with more than 8.8 million distributed from the United States.

Operation Christmas Child is launching National Collection Week Nov. 18-25. People can drop shoebox gifts off at local relay centers, including New Hope Community Church in Hermiston. From there, the boxes are taken to Bethel Church in Richland, Washington, before heading to the West Coast Processing Center near Los Angeles.

Barb Wattenburger, who along with her husband, Paul, are the local drop-off location leaders, said the local goal is to collect 2,019 shoebox gifts. The Arlington United Methodist Church, she said, ordered 300 boxes this year. Over a handful of years, the church averaged 18 donations before delivering 164 last year.

Wattenburger said the response is amazing when people become really passionate about the project — her husband included. While she said Paul has been supportive and helped over the years, he really got on board when he found out Operation Christmas Child is more than just dropping off a box of gifts and that’s it.

“He used to think it was a cute little project … then he learned about the follow-up,” Barb said.

Recipients of shoebox gifts are invited to participate in The Greatest Journey. The discipleship program features a 12-lesson course that includes Bible stories, scripture memorization and how to follow Christ in their daily lives.

Shoebox gifts can include small toys, clothing, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, soap and washcloths. Prohibited items are anything that is breakable or liquid as well as toothpaste, aerosol cans, war-themed toys, food, snacks, drink mixes, medications and vitamins.

Anyone can contribute a box for Operation Christmas Child.

For uniformity in packaging and distribution, items must be placed into a shoebox-sized container. Also, a $9 per box donation is requested to assist with processing fees, shipping costs and providing gospel materials that are written in the child’s language.

More information, including gift guidelines, an option to track your shoebox and an opportunity to virtually “Build a Box” is available at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.

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