The following content has been relocated out of the main Operation Christmas Child page under Called To Serve. For 2014, my involvement with the Operation Christmas Child ministry at Clayton Church can be summarised as:
- “Christmas in July”, Surge Packing Party
- held on Wednesday 30 July
- targeted at the young working adults ministry
- resulted in ~100 shoe boxes packed
- “Christmas in November”,UCC Packing Party
- held on Friday 14 November
- targeted at the university student ministry – United Cross Campus
- resulted in ~70 shoe boxes packed
- Four-week Sunday campaign
- started Sunday 16 November with presentation before English congregations
- culminated in 7 December as the final Packing Party
- targeted at the entire church (English services plus Jien service)
- resulted in ~150 shoe boxes packed and collected on Sunday 1 December
- resulted in ~350 shoe boxes packed and collected on Sunday 8 December
- Surge Cell Group Packing Party
- held on Wednesday 4 December
- at the request of members who had missed out on the July event
- 11 of us, including 3 visitors, packed 24 boxes
The common effort across the three initiatives/packing parties was the extra effort made by the team of volunteers to provide a market stall filled with items available for each audience to purchase. Thanks to one of the church member contacts we had, market stall items were procured at wholesale prices and we were able to make them available at $1 an item (with some bundled as 2 or 3 for $1). In this way, we were able to intentionally make the whole exercise of packing a shoe box very convenient for the various people attending.
Another major focus was that each of these packing party/events were evangelistic opportunities for church members to invite friends and family from beyond the church community. Whilst the events were not explicit or direct in a message of “become a Christian”, the intent was to demonstrate the core Christian value and motive behind why we pack the shoe boxes. For a lot of people, they were not aware that each shoebox represented an opportunity for a child in the destination country to hear and learn about Jesus. Each box handed out to a child includes material distributed by the local church whereby a 12-week program follows up and walks the child through the New Testament stories. This effort translates into a high percentage of children becoming believers at the conclusion of the program.
Another consistent theme which we emphasised throughout the year for packing a shoebox was to treat it not as an individual effort, but as a communal effort – either as a family, or cell group. This harnessed the whole synergy and pooling of resources to enable greater numbers of boxes were packed. As an example, my cell group came together for the July event and we packed a total of 16 shoe boxes. As at the time of writing (Monday 1 November), our cell group is scheduled to make a final effort as a group whereby we are hosting a packing party with a target of packing 25 shoe boxes. Our cell group is not alone in pursuing this; stories of other cell groups coming together to have packing parties have been shared – one other example was a 30 birthday celebration where the party/group packed 30 boxes as an alternate to giving the birthday person a group present!
On Sunday 8 December we collected 250+ boxes. The request was made that people hang on to their boxes and bring them forward to stage at the end of the service. The first English service resulted in 100+ boxes whilst the second service added another 150:
Three cars were required to transport all the boxes to a temporary staging area which was a friend’s place close to the OCC warehouse.
Getting involved with OCC has one final story/area – participating in the processing/ packing experience that the state warehouse performs. As part of ensuring the church’s effort was supported in the warehouse, I took the Monday 9 December off as my final volunteer day for 2014. The day involved:
- picking up 4 remaining boxes that did not make the Sunday collection deadline at church
- transporting and unloading my car boot load of shoe boxes
- helping to load and dispose of all cardboard recycling material
- assisting with the activities of processing a shoebox
Whilst at the warehouse, the official tally for my church was finalised – a record 654 boxes in total! A number of key takeaways are listed below which I was able to learn and now share as part of improving the way we support OCC in 2015:
$9 Postage Donation Money
There is a strong preference for online payment of the box postage $9. The reasons for this are multiple, but the barcode labels that quickly identify the shoe boxes mean the volunteers processing the boxes can focus on the quality of items inside and not have to handle any cash donations inside. Further, online payments guarantee the postage money is provided for the shoe box.
Every year, 100s of boxes are submitted without the necessary $9 postage amount – which causes financial pressure on Samaritan’s Purse to offset the cost of postage. Apparently for 2014 the average donation per box for Victoria is $6, which is the best across Australia – other states average $5. Part of the challenge has been that since the mid 2000s the postage cost increased from $7 to $9. Apparently some people are not aware of this cost increase!
The processing of Clayton Church shoe boxes on Monday was made easier by the fact that I had prepaid for 48 shoe boxes online and people packed the pre-purchased boxes on the Sunday reimbursing me for the out-of-pocket initial outlay. This strategy seems like the appropriate way to ensure a smooth operation for 2015 – we will pre-purchase the bulk of our 600+ boxes next year online, across all 6 boy/girl age groups, have the labels printed and affixed to the boxes. This way, it further improves the quality of our boxes.
Shoebox Item Quality
The quality of a shoe box is determined by how full it is. Ideally, each of the six categories of items required should be provided, but it is also just as important that each shoe box is completely filled. One story was shared of a Sunday School packing party where the kids enthusiastically packed their shoe boxes only to later on learn that the shoe boxes still remained largely empty! The Sunday School teacher ended having to explain the need to fully fill the box and help the kids go shopping for more bulky items.
It has been proven over time that the quality of a shoe box tends to be higher when the people packing them are part of a packing party event, or a church that has years of experience. Further, throughout the year, at our various parties, we discovered individuals who have in the past helped out at the warehouse – these individuals became champions and advisers in directing our packing party attendees in how to correctly fill a box.
The only area of weakness in the 100s of shoe boxes packed by my church was that a number of our items – clothes, toys, toothbrushes, etc… remained in their plastic packaging. The warehouse processing also includes removing this excess packaging.
The warehouse has filler items available to add into shoe boxes that are received where they are not fully packed, but over the years the trend – which is desirable – is to reduce the number of shoe boxes requiring filler items. Whilst we had procured socks for our packing parties, completing a set of clothing is a preference – adding a t-shirt or hat would help.
The recommendation and lesson learnt for Clayton Church and our packing parties is to remove all the packaging in advance, which is one of the few remaining areas available for improvement for our own shoe boxes.
As part of fulfilling the item category Something Special, we started to write messages in Christmas cards to the recipient children. We were also cautioned that whilst mention of “God” is acceptable, “Jesus” and explicit bible verse references are not acceptable. Again, this feedback will help us in the 2015 campaign for OCC.
Churches can book in a Saturday time slot during the processing season (October – November) and form a team of volunteers to help with the processing of shoe boxes received. The number of Saturday’s is limited so if we pursue this opportunity, we will need to lock in a time slot sooner rather than later.
For 2014, the final Victorian tally is estimated to be 55000+ shoe boxes, which will be a slightly lower achievement than the 58000+ shoe boxes received in 2013. Clayton Church’s contribution of 650+ boxes is a record for us, but the positive thing is that there is plenty of room to grow and improve both in terms of quality and quantity for 2015!