Saturday, December 2, 2017

Catching Up and Sorting and Snipping

Two weeks ago I was wondering if I was finished with my 2017 shoeboxes and now I'm knee deep in preparing for 2018 boxes.  Crazy!

So...back on November 18th I thought I might be done packing. On Sunday morning, November 19th, I woke and decided I needed to pack 9 more boxes to give me 28,888 as the grand total from the packing party boxes and the post-packing-party boxes.  I scrounged up every available item--even dipped into the sample boxes I use when I speak about Operation Christmas Child. I started to clean up the leftover items and left for church feeling I'd done all I could.

But...then...I discovered someone had left donated items in the church office for me.  And someone left nine more nice empty boxes.  Surely that was a sign I wasn't done. So after church I tucked all those items into the boxes and put together another even dozen bringing the total to a nice round

Monday turned out to be a hectic day at our Central Drop-Off site but I could tell we were far from the goal of 54,321 we'd been praying for all year.  When the three trucks were pulled on Tuesday the total came in at 50,388--just 86 more than our 2016 total.  It was only by God's grace and all the extra last-minute donations that we were able to send even that many.

God knows and He has plans to bless all the children who are waiting to hear about His love.

Fast forward to this week.  I thought it would be an easy week of resting up and getting ready to travel to volunteer at the processing center next week.

Instead, I was surprised by a steady stream of donations of stuffed animals. My husband said, "Why are they bringing them now?" Well, why not?

Over the first few days of the week I sorted, washed, and bagged more than 500 animals.  But I wasn't prepared for last night's delivery of 1500 plus!

I lined all the bags up against the couch and waited for morning light this morning to start the sorting.  I worked on them from 9:00 am until 5:30 pm (with a few Facebook breaks, of course.)  I've written before about the cleaning process, but I thought you might like to hear about the sorting.

The donors who brought all these bags said they'd already washed the animals, and that was a huge help.  Still, I had to inspect them. As I look over each animal, I check for any spots, tears, or flaws, and I always look carefully at the tags on them.  You can have a nice clean animal but if the tag is faded or frayed like the one in the picture then of course it doesn't look new.  So, I simply snip off the tag. The trick is to cut it as close to the fabric as possible without cutting the animal.  

Then the animals are thrown into piles around the living room according to size and whether they are for a girl or boy/either.  My sorting has gotten more specific over the past few years. There are piles for Beanie Baby-sized; medium or Webkin-sized; large ones that, in addition to basic items, will pretty much fill up a box for a 2-4 year old and medium-large ones that need only a few additional fillers. 

Here's part of the pile of tags that have been cut off.  I will also cut shirts or costumes off if they are faded or cut witch's hats off Halloween animals and also clip the ends of ribbons so they are fresh.

It's hard to find room in the living room for all the various piles--especially when you add in all the other piles--those that need to be washed, ones that need batteries, ones who need to have hair combed, ones that aren't suitable for special access boxes and are relegated to the Patriotic Praying Pig Pile.  And then there are those that don't make the cut for shoeboxes.  I take piles of them to our city mission's clothing pantry where I volunteer and they are scooped up by local folks.  

Once all the animals are separated into piles it's time to bag them up.  The Beanie-sized ones go 50 in a bag in smaller white trash bags while the medium Webkin-sized ones go 75 to a large black garbage bag.  The really large ones go in big clear trash bags and are hauled to the attic so they don't get mixed in.

My latest quandary is what to do with the medium-large ones because I've run out of places to keep them separate.  Might have to enlist another volunteer for that.  

So...2,000 animals by the beginning of December is a pretty good start.  I'm not sure yet what our goal will be for the 2018 packing party, but we probably only need another 26,500 or so.

We're catching up!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


This morning when I woke up I planned to pack 9 more Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to finish my packing for the year.  I thought I was done a week ago, but God provided a sale that gave me another 400 or so items and I went back into packing mode.

I've always been a fan of nice round numbers in my OCC world, and packing 9 more boxes this morning would put the combined total of packing party boxes and home-packed boxes at an even 28,850 for the year.

But after I got those 9 boxes on the table and started filling them with nice shoes I found a half dozen baseball hats I wanted to pack.  I assembled 6 more boxes.  The total 28,856 isn't as clean, but blessing another 6 children is worth it I figured.

After I finished those 15 boxes I decided to tally the items I still had left--33 tennis balls; 24 jump ropes; 50 plastic cups; lots of shoes and plenty of the basic items.  I folded up 12 boxes and started packing again.

When that round was done I realized packing 12 more would give me 28,880--a great number indeed--so I set up another 12 boxes. One of them had to be a box for a 10-14 year old girl to use up some girl items, and I decided the others would be for 10-14 year old boys.

I went to get shoes from the piles of recent purchases and found there were exactly 11 pairs left for 10-14 year old boys so I cleaned up that category.

After quickly finishing those boxes we loaded our minivan and my husband's truck with the 487 boxes and headed out to our central drop-off site.

We were excited to have 29 members of the Gannon University soccer team there to cartonize the boxes and greet two trucks from drop-off sites and load their 6,000+ boxes into two of the trucks. They polished it all off in less than an hour!

Back home this afternoon I started to clean up my packing supplies and took another little inventory. well...I still had 9 tennis balls and all these cute tennis shoes for 5-9 year olds that take up some significant box space.  If I made a quick trip to the store for some toy cars I could make another 8 nice boxes...and that number 28,888 was really tempting...

So...I went to the store...and...I finished them.  I FINISHED.  I think...

In other news, Jim and I had a date night last night and headed to Warren and Corry to visit our drop-off sites there and enjoy some time at the packing party at Corry.

Under Becky Foster's leadership this packing party has grown every year.  And the boxes were absolutely STUFFED this year with great fillers that will bless the children who receive them.
Just check out these beautiful handmade dolls.  They had 300 of them made by a local sewing group.

When my box packing was finished this afternoon I settled in to watch "Facing The Giants" for a little pick-me-up.  It's crazy when I think that 48 hours from now we'll know the total box number for our area team.  We've prayed for months for 54,321 and I have no idea whether we'll be anywhere close to that number or not.

As soon as I hear of a church whose box numbers are up this year I hear of another whose are down. We'll find out soon, though.  And, taking a line from "Facing The Giants"--we'll praise God if we win and we'll praise Him if we lose...

Because we're almost finished...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Back Packing

Well...last Sunday I thought I'd finished packing Operation Christmas Child boxes for 2017.  Then Tuesday brought a surprise sale at Dollar General that bagged nearly 400 more quality shoebox items--sandals, clothing, jewelry.

What could I do but start packing it up?  My sweet husband headed back to the storage container today and brought me more stuffed animals and more boxes.

He also picked up the cartons I needed for storing the hundreds of items to use for next year's packing party.  One problem, though.  He inadvertently brought home ones with the top flaps cut off that were being saved to put things on the tables at next year's party.  Not much help for storage, so we'll have to head back there to get more.

In between packing we've been making some visits to our drop-off sites.  It was fun to visit our Walnut Creek site on Tuesday and last night we made the trek to Meadville, Conneaut Lake, and Edinboro.  It rained, of course.  It always seems to rain when I drive to Meadville during National Collection Week.

Tonight we were out in North East visiting with a new drop-off team leader there.  She showed us a big bag of these neat hand-crocheted frisbees that were donated as filler items for the Processing Center.  Of course I had to test them.  They fly really well and fold up neatly.  What a cool idea!

We've been to our new Central Drop-Off site a few times this week.  I'm pretty disappointed the church insists on having the trucks dropped clear across the parking lot from their building.

 They have donors drop the boxes at the trucks and cartonize them in the trucks to keep from transporting the cartons such a long distance.  It's becoming kind of a mobile drop-off--not easy to minister to people that way.  So...we keep praying...

and packing...

Monday, November 13, 2017

And...We're Off!

Yes, I know. It's been almost three weeks again since I've written on this blog. Oy vey. Life just keeps happening...

And...we're off!  All year long we measure time in the Operation Christmas Child world by the number of weeks until National Collection Week.  Guess what?! It's here! Today marks the beginning of the week of harvesting these precious Gospel Opportunities.

Are we ready?'s hard to be ready when you're not sure what God's got planned, but we've prayed and we've recruited drop-off sites (even though we're down three from last year) and now we're waiting for the boxes to come through those doors.

I haven't exactly been slacking over the last three weeks.  Life has been pleasantly filled with good things, including TWO baby showers for our first grandchild, due on December 22nd.

Our daughter and her husband chose not to learn the gender of their baby, but, as you can see from the cake, he or she is already loved as can 'bee' (the shower theme) and we're more than ready to hold that precious miracle.

Well, I'm thinking the baby will be a lot cuter than this, but my husband did do a great job on the fruit basket bassinet.

And, then, of course, there are boxes.  First there were the 116 big boxes of visors (25,000 of them) that we received delivery on two weeks ago for our 2018 boxes. It was a COLD and rainy day, despite my prayers, but we got that delivery in a shiny UPS freight truck that was only a week old and managed to get all the boxes tucked into the storage container in record time.

And, then, I've been packing more boxes at home.  Between the packing party and boxes packed in the aftermath I really wanted to get 1,000 more boxes than last year.  Our team goal for our area this year is 54,321--4,015 more boxes than last year--so I know we need every box.

The 28.032 packed at the packing party put us 263 above last year's complete total. But as of a week ago I'd only packed 300 or so at home, opposed to the 1200 I did last year.  I couldn't imagine packing enough to get 1,000 more than last year's total of 27,769.

I kept praying along the way about how many to pack and just kept going.  Last week I made a few more runs to collect stuffed animals but knew I was running out of good boys' fillers.  When I drove into my driveway after picking up 41 stuffed animals these bags were sitting by my back door.

My neighbor is a tennis coach and sometimes leaves bags of used balls for me.  After I carefully inspect them I usually find only about 1/3 of them are box-worthy. But not this time! Nearly every one of these balls was in new condition.  So...I figured I would keep packing.

My husband kept assembling boxes and I kept filling them with good quality baseball hats and soap and pencils and pens and crayons and paper and coloring books and cups and balls and stuffed animals.  The stacks kept growing.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday I had a precious time with the students at Leadership Christian Academy. I got to speak to them in chapel and then they packed close to 200 shoeboxes at a packing party.

I was especially touched to see children praying over their boxes.  I know God is hearing and will bless the children who get these in extraordinary ways.

On Saturday I calculated I'd packed 305 boxes this past week and added to the 361 I packed previously the total came to 666--nope, couldn't leave it at that.  So, after praying, I decided to grab more leftover baseball hats from the storage container on Sunday and keep packing.

I've been pinch hitting as Project Leader at my church this year--not doing the job well but at least doing something--and Sunday morning was our final box collection.  Last year we collected 423 but this year God gave us 195 so far.

A number of people forgot their boxes and will take them to drop-off site this week, so I'm praying for more. I was especially blessed when our local TV station sent a reporter to do an interview and we got some media hits on the Sunday evening news and early Monday morning news. I'm praying God will use that exposure to bring in more boxes.

Yesterday afternoon found me packing again, and I finished 66 more boxes. I still need to put the finishing touches of hammers and nails and screws in the five tool kits.

I thought a few weeks ago it could never happen, but, by God's grace, it did. Between the 28,032 boxes packed at the packing party and the 737 packed at home the total stands at 28,769--exactly 1,000 more than last year.

Of course, you never know what bargains or donations could still come along so I didn't put the packing supplies away yet.

But now it's time to prayerfully collect all those boxes packed in other living rooms around our area. Because it's NATIONAL COLLECTION WEEK....and...we're off!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Leaving It On The Field

Call me a super slacker.  It's October 25th and this is the first blog I've written this month.  Maybe I've just run out of anything interesting to say.

The weeks roll along, and I can't believe the start of National Collection Week is just a bit over two weeks away.

Meanwhile, I'm praying about our goal of 54,321 boxes here in Northwestern PA and wondering what it means this year to "leave it all on the field."

I'm in the thick of packing boxes with all the miscellaneous items I've been saving through the year that weren't appropriate for our big packing party in September.  When it comes right down to it my passion is shopping for shoeboxes and packing shoeboxes so it's been fun to assemble these special boxes carefully and prayerfully.

I'm still praying and trying to figure out whether this extra-special dress should be marked for a girl in the 5-9 or the 10-14 age range. It's a long size 10. I even polled friends on Facebook and got a divided response.  I'm praying it will bless the girl who receives it.

This box has a Frozen theme and a pretty dress

The other night I finally assembled 40 sewing kits but was blessed with more supplies today and need to get busy making more.

And just when my filler supply was low I got another donation today. It's fun to figure out how to combine things.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking ahead to our 2018 packing party and unexpectedly received the first shipment this week.

It was a beautiful day to unload 12,000 cardboard Hello Kitty tiaras.  What could be more fun? 

But...there's still plenty of work to bring in the harvest of 2017 boxes.  There are two new drop-off sites to be trained, cartons to distribute, and I'm speaking at two churches this Sunday.  And, of course, there's the Chick-fil-A collection, too.  Oh, and the project leader for my church stepped down so I've been trying to kind of pinch hit in that role...

And the question remains: what does it mean to leave it all on the field for 2017?  I'm trying to get all the miscellaneous stuff packed into boxes (I'm up to 315 packed boxes sitting in my house right now) in the next few days, because we have baby showers for my daughter the next two weekends and I really need to free up some space.

After November 4th I need to decide whether to pack more boxes.  Our area team goal is a little more than a 4,000 box increase over 2016.  Right now--between the packing party and boxes packed at home we stand at just about 600 more than last year. Is that enough, Lord?  

I think we have enough items left over from the packing party to pack another few hundred good boxes.  Is that what God wants me to spend time doing?  Packing boxes is what I love to do, but is it what I should do?  

So...I guess I'll ponder that question for a week or so while I take care of what's in front of me now, because the time is short and I really do want to leave it all on the field.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

God Never Even Wastes A Chip

Today I've been reading over some of my journal entries from past months and seeing how many prayers God has answered leading up to our large Operation Christmas Child packing party.

I especially love seeing how He does not waste a thing!  One of our local grocery store chains offers points for free gas for the car when purchasing certain items, and I always try to get some of those good deals to keep the minivan running.

A few months ago they had a good deal on Lay's Stax chips.  Each canister cost $1.25 on sale and when you bought 6 of them (total cost of $7.50) you ended up with $12.50 worth of free gas points.  Never one to miss out, I loaded up with 70 of them and when they repeated the deal two months later I bought even more--planning to use them for snacks at the packing party.

On packing party day I heard the story of how the "blessing of the chips" continued.  It turns out that one of our Drop-Off Sites has already planned out their VBS for next summer, and one of the things they are trying to collect is 125 of these chip canisters for a special craft.

When they saw them at the packing party they dug through the bags of trash and ended up with 63 of the canisters!  Well...we also ended up with 28 of these left over at the end of the day.  Angie, our Drop-Off Team Leader from the church just stopped over to pick them up.

God never wastes anything--not even a chip.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Post Packing Party Prayer--Beyond Asking

They say a picture is worth a thousand to keep this blog short I'm only using one picture (not to mention the fact that the pictures I have are on my phone and not on my laptop.)  This one is my daughter and son-in-law (and my unborn grandchild) who drove in from Ellwood City to volunteer at yesterday's packing party.  I really don't have witty words this morning, so I thought I'd let you listen in while I spend some time thanking God...

Awesome God, I never want to take for granted the miracles You do for me every day because of Your goodness, but I do want to learn to expect them.  I want to expect Your goodness because of Your character--because GOODNESS is Who You are.  This year, Father, I saw Your goodness in ways that are, to use Paul's words from Ephesians 3:20, "exceedingly, abundantly beyond all I could ask or imagine."

And I asked.  Oh, I asked over and over and over...and then I asked some more.  Still, you went beyond the asking.

I asked for 600 volunteers on Saturday.  You gave us 379 volunteers on Saturday but also 155 volunteers Friday night and 75 volunteers on Friday morning from more than 26 different churches and 19 different groups. knew we needed volunteers through the week to fold those boxes and sent us faithful volunteers day by day, culminating with more than 60 on Thursday night.  You knew our needs beyond my asking.

I asked over and over for enough items to fill 27,000 boxes in a way that would bless each child who receives one.  But You knew there were 28,032 children to be blessed and You provided fillers and wisdom for Amanda and Pam and others who made the decisions on how to use them.  And those boxes were well-filled up until the very last...beyond my asking.

So many prayed with me week by week for stuffed animals--enough to put one in every one of 27,000 boxes to bless children in Your name.  And they by day and week by week.  Several thousand came in on Friday, on Saturday morning more bags were at the back door of my home, and even more were brought to the packing party.  Father, in Your abundance You poured them out so, like the 12 baskets of loaves and fishes collected after you fed more than 5,000 people, we had over-abundance.  We put bags and bags of them into our storage container to be sorted to go into boxes yet to be packed. Abundance...beyond my asking.

We did six Jericho marches in the days leading up to the packing party.  You heard us as groups of us walked around the church praying for wisdom, praying for people's hearts on this side of the box to be opened, praying for unity.  And on Saturday morning we did a final Jericho march.  We asked for your blessing.  We asked You to do what only You could do.  Over and over and over we asked.  And, oh, You answered!  Yes, there were some moments of strain in our team, but for the most part there truly was sweet unity.  At the end of it all we were still laughing and taking silly pictures with kitty tiaras on our heads--making memories that were beyond what we asked.

I kept wondering if I should have ordered more boxes.  I ordered 27,500 but You sent us 28,032.  We prayed on that Jericho march and You made the walls of boxes around the church come down until every one of them was packed and put into one of four trucks that are ready for the next step on their journey--beyond our asking.

We asked you to use Amanda's testimony in the opening of the packing party to draw people to Yourself and we trust in faith that You are answering those prayers.  We thank you for the man who wandered into the church on Wednesday night while we were folding boxes.  He said he has spiritual questions and Jim was able to spend a good portion of time talking with him.  We asked You to do Your work on "this side of the box" and You answered--beyond our asking.

Amazing God--each of these nine packing parties has been filled with gifts from Your hand.  But this one--well, of all of them I believe this one was somehow filled with more abundance than ever.

I stand in awe of You, loving Father, and I wish I had words to give You the praise you deserve.  I pray you will get that praise from the lips of the children who receive these boxes--precious gifts from You to lead them to Jesus, the Greatest Gift Of All, and I pray this in His name.  Amen.