ELBURN – Millions have used old shoeboxes to store baseball cards, crayons, sewing supplies and unpaid bills.
While finding another use for those cardboard boxes rather than the recycle bin is clever, many are selflessly and generously packing shoeboxes with toys, school supplies and hygiene items to help millions of children who are in need all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.
Among those giving and packing shoebox gifts were riders for Bikers with Boxes. A few dozen motorcycle enthusiasts loaded up their bikes with shoebox gifts before meeting Sept. 29 at Monitor Technology in Elburn. They then enjoyed a meaningful slow ride before arriving at the Warehouse Church in Aurora for snacks, refreshments and fellowship, as well as to hear directly from someone who personally has received a shoebox gift for Christmas.
“I think everyone had a good time,” said Randy Schoof, pastor for the Warehouse Church. “A lot of people here like to ride motorcycles, and we do a few motorcycle events throughout the year and we’ve been participating in Operation Christmas Child, but this was our inaugural event like this. It’s gone really well. We’re able to send some cool stuff to those in need and teach them how to begin a relationship with God.”
Operation Christmas Child, an international project of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, collects and delivers gift-filled shoeboxes to millions of children every year. In 26 years, Operational Christmas Child has delivered shoeboxes to about 168 million kids.
“It’s pretty cool to see so many people come together,” said Heather Russell, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child. “This is not humanitarian. It’s a gift. It’s a Christmas gift. It’s new toys, new school supplies and toiletries. And there are millions of kids in the world, but there’s never enough shoe boxes packed because there are still kids who have never received a Christmas gift.”
While some raindrops were felt during the ride, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, including Lance Robinson, vice president for Aurora’s Chariots for Christ chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.
“We do a lot of motorcycle stuff on Sundays and our mission is to go out into the motorcycle world and change one heart at a time to accept Christ,” Robinson said. “We do a lot of different rides and support a lot of different causes. That’s our mission and this was great. We put some boxes together and it’s nice to see so many of us here helping out.”
And they were able to see firsthand how their generosity makes an immediate impact. Vladimir Prokhnevskiy, who received a shoebox when he was just 9 years old while living in a small apartment with his eight brothers and sisters and parents, shared his testimony.
“Over the years you forget a lot of details about the shoebox, but you don’t forget how it makes you feel,” said Prokhnevskiy, now 32. “People put love into these boxes, and on the receiving end people feel that same love you’re packing with. I always say God is love, and when we show God to people, where people experience love, they experience God, and once you experience God’s unconditional love, you will not walk away unchanged.”
Prokhnevskiy’s story hit on a lot of emotions and at times he had the group laughing out loud along with him, especially when he said he received dental floss as a gift and thought it was some strange American candy.
“I balled it up like a mint and it made my mouth all numb,” he said. “Someone felt sorry for me and explained how it wasn’t candy, but a toothbrush substitute and I thought maybe it hasn’t reached my country yet but will make us smile more.”
When he unearthed a bar of Dove soap, he didn’t want to use it because it was too pretty and smelled too nice.
“It was the whitest white,” he said. “It had a print of the dove on top and it was like the Holy Spirit in a box. It was something special, so I didn’t want to ruin it. I figured I can put this on the shelf and just look at it because it was like a work of art.”
Perhaps the coolest tale Prokhnevskiy shared was about a Barbie doll. While 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute and 58 million are sold annually, you still can’t find many in the Ukraine.
“One girl had one and she used to hold it on her balcony and all the other girls would look up at it in awe,” he said. “My sister got one as a shoebox gift and she made sure all the little girls she knew could take it home at least once to have a sleepover. And since then it’s been handed down to other families. The gifts go a lot further than you think.”
That single shoebox gift, and countless others, are still impacting lives today. That’s what the annual project is all about.
There’s still plenty of time to get involved with Operation Christmas Child as its National Collection Week isn’t until Nov. 18 to 25. Visit Warehouse Church for information at 308 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, or www.samaritanspurse.org.