Local Operation Christmas Child volunteers bring joy to poor children worldwide

Posted at 11:51 AM, Dec 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-08 12:53:43-05
Life Church in De Pere is looking more like Santa's workshop. Dozens of volunteers are hustling and bustling to collect and pack shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child which is a gift drive created by the international relief organization Samaritan's Purse.
"Operation Christmas Child has been around since 1993, so 23 years later people are hearing about it for the first time and getting excited, so that's exciting for us," said Community Relations Organizer Amber Ott.
Michelle Blackman runs the collection center for the Green Bay area. She has been packing shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items for the past 11 years.  
"It is a lot of work but it is my passion, and they always say if you love what you're doing then it's not work," she explains. "Ultimately, our goal is that children all over the world hear about Jesus." 
Blackman assembles about 450 shoe boxes every year with the help of her 9-year-old son Oliver.
"It makes me feel amazing inside that my heart has just glowed with joy to help them," Oliver said.
Blackman traveled to Uganda, Africa in 2013 and saw first-hand how the gifts made an impact. "They pretty much only get what they need in life, and school supplies can make a difference whether they go to school or not."
Ott adds, "By giving something like a sewing kit or a tool kit or something, you can give them a career and literally change their entire life." 
Families that ship the boxes often send a photo of themselves and a holiday message to the kids.
"These children love to see who packed a box for me. 'Who thought I was so special that I can get a gift,'" explains Blackman.
She treasures the nearly 100 thank you notes that she has received in return.
"They write to me and tell me what a difference it's made not only in their lives but in the lives of their families and their communities."
This year, the Green Bay area donated more than 6,200 shoe boxes which crushed the collection goal of 4,500. The gifts will go to children ages two to fourteen who are living in poverty in five African countries and St. Lucia which is located in the Caribbean.
Ott says, "I can't believe that I can do something that seems so small to me, but I can touch so many lives. It's awesome." 
It's a feeling that inspires Blackman to work harder year after year to spread joy at Christmas through the power of a simple gift.
"That's what I hope is that they just feel loved."