Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It's The Most Wonderful Time... To Make a Difference (With Operation Christmas Child)

Operation Christmas Child is on my mind all year long.  When I spot classic novels in the Target dollar section in springtime, I scoop them up.  And when my daughters receive goodie bags at a summer birthday party, I squirrel the good stuff away.  I truly believe every little bit makes a difference.

I wish I could remember and thank whomever shared the very first post I saw about Operation Christmas Child on Facebook several years ago.  That's when I learned how this incredible program collects shoeboxes filled with gifts for a child who will receive nothing else on Christmas morning.  Nothing else.

That fall, I found the world's two most ginormous shoeboxes (one from each of my young girls) and packed them to the brim.  I've often wondered who those shoeboxes made smile more- me or the children who received them.  Selfishly, I'm pretty sure it was me.  The following year I wanted to pack more and more shoeboxes, but my heart was bigger than my checkbook.

I've never been good at asking for money (from anyone other than my mom).  When I ran the Boston Marathon in 2001 I was required to raise several thousand dollars for Brigham & Women's Hospital, who gave me my bib number.  Embarrassed to fundraise, I donated the money myself.  Years later, I regret doing that.  Had I worked up the hutzpah to ask for help, I'd likely have raised much more for the institution than the very minimum I was able to provide.  I wanted to make up for that.

So, sharing my first experience with Operation Christmas Child with my few but loyal readers and asking them to help me collect the goodies to help me pack more boxes made all the difference in the world.

While visiting family in New England this summer I came across The Legend of the Starfish for the very first time.

A vacationing businessman was walking a long a beach when he saw a young boy.  Along the seashore, there were many starfish that had been washed up by the tide and were sure to die before the tide returned.  The boy walked slowly along the shore, occasionally reaching down to toss the beached starfish back into the ocean.  The businessman, hoping to teach the boy a little lesson in common sense, walked up to him and said, "I have been watching what you are doing, son.  You have a good heart, and I know that you mean well, but do you realize how many beaches there are around the world and how many starfish are dying on those beaches everyday?  Surely such an industrious and kind-hearted boy like yourself could find something better to do with your time.  Do you really think what you are doing is going to make a difference?"  The boy looked at the man, and then he looked down at the starfish by his feet.  He picked up the starfish and as he gently tossed it back into the ocean he said, "it makes a difference to that one". (adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley, 1907-1977)

In life there are so many that need saving, and unfortunately not enough ways to save them.  But sometimes even the smallest effort can make an enormous difference.

Which, brings me back to Operation Christmas Child.  Here's the deal.

If you guys send me the goodies, I will purchase the plastic reusable shoebox size bins, pack them, wrap them and pay the $7 donation suggested per box for shipping.  You can send as many or as few items as you'd like.  You can shop at The Dollar Store or Barney's.  You can shop alone for peace and quiet or shop with your children to teach them a bit about the real spirit of giving.  You can even skip the shopping all together by making a homemade craft or a monetary donation (or both).

Some housekeeping:

- Click here to learn more about Operation Christmas Child.

- Each shoebox will be labeled with the sex and age of the child it is intended for (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14). In the past, I have received the least for the older children.  There is no collection for infants.

- There is a suggested donation list on the website.  I've included the standard stuff like crayons, coloring books, pens, pencil sharpeners and notepads.  People have also gotten really creative by donating wildflower seeds, aprons and glow-in-the-dark stars.  Sidewalk chalk, yo-yos, and jump ropes.  Or you can go the practical route with socks, undies, toothbrushes and soap.  Go crazy.  Shoebox-size crazy.

- Yes, I can take PayPal donations.  Personal checks are also wonderful.  I will save those funds until the end of the collection period and use them to buy whatever we are lacking.  Then I'll send you a photo of how far I helped your money go.

- Collection Week ends on November 23rd, which means my five and seven year old elves and I must have EVERYTHING packed, wrapped, labeled and ready to deliver by then.

Once the collection is over, I will provide an update like this one of how many boxes we were able to send and where in the world they went.  All that's left for you to do is take a moment on Christmas morning, I hope, to think of the child who will receive your gift and the smile it is sure to put upon his or her face.

If you have any questions or would like address information, please email me at  I am also happy to help you find a local chapter where you can donate on your own.

I hope to hear from friends, family and strangers.  But most of all I hope that however you choose to spend your holiday season, a moment or two will be spent saving a starfish.

PS. There are 98 days until Christmas but only 62 until Collection Week begins!  So let me be the first to say... Happy Holidays!