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Woman, others help put ‘love’ in a box

Woman, others help put ‘love’ in a box
Woman, others help put ‘love’ in a box
Photo by Stephanie Taylor Ferriell. Gideon Rykhus, 5, fills a shoe box with some help from his mother, Violet, while dad Jon watches with baby sister Daisy. At left is Raetta Woody, who directs the local Operation Christmas Child collection site at El Bethel Baptist Church. Also pictured is OCC regional manager Thomas Blount, who visited the site Nov. 15.
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer [email protected]

It seems like such a simple thing, a shoe box filled with small toys, personal care items and trinkets. However, a shoe box from Operation Christmas Child could be the only gift the child to whom it’s handed has ever received.

“It’s love in a box,” said Raetta Woody, a Marengo woman who has been involved with the project for 27 years, filling her first shoe boxes in 1994. “To me, that’s what it’s about, showing love.”

Volunteers who deliver the boxes also share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the children and their families, both through books included in the boxes and a follow-up discipleship course.

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, started in 1993 when 28,000 filled boxes were sent to children in war-torn Bosnia.

This year, an estimated 11 million shoe boxes will be distributed to children around the globe. Since 1993, more than 188 million shoe boxes have been distributed in 170 countries.

Woody became involved with OCC through her church, El Bethel Baptist Church. In the early years, church members would bring different items each week and the youth group would pack the boxes.

Six years ago, El Bethel became a collection site. Before that, those in Crawford County who filled shoe boxes had to drop them off at a location in another county.

Woody wanted to make it more convenient for local residents to take part in OCC. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she turned to friend and fellow church member Sharlyn Johnson.

“I knew I had to have people I could depend on,” said Woody.

Johnson said the shoe-box project is near and dear to Woody’s heart and she’s happy to lend a hand.

“Raetta’s the star of the show,” said Johnson. “She’s the one who keeps it going. She’s so passionate about this. We’re here to support her with her passion.”

Sue House has worked with the project for years as well, and this year Violet Rykhus is helping out.

The women ensure at least two of them are at the church during drop-off hours for the eight-day collection period. They check in each box, thank the person who brought it, then pack the boxes into cartons.

Last year, Crawford County residents, representing 11 churches, dropped off more than 200 boxes. Woody’s goal for this year was 300.

El Bethel experienced a first this year. Regional manager Thomas Blount stopped by Nov. 15 to thank volunteers and answer any questions.

Blount said there are more than 1,300 participating churches in this geographical region, which includes Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. He said the regional goal for 2021 is 835,000 shoe boxes.

The boxes will be transported to a sorting facility in Chicago, where they will be individually checked and sorted according to gender and age. They will then be repacked into cartons, prayed over and sent around the world.

Blount said no child receives more than one box in their lifetime to ensure Samaritan’s Purse reaches as many different people as possible.

“Think about how many of these children have never received a present in their life,” said Blount. “These kids need this expression of love and to know they matter.”

It’s her love for children that keeps Woody committed to Operation Christmas Child. Her hope is that the children who receive a filled shoe box come to know Jesus and “know someone’s watching over them, God’s with them. They’re not alone.

“They know someone out there cares enough to send a shoe box,” she said.

Johnson added, “It’s all about the love at the end of the day. It’s about love. That they feel loved.”

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