Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Managing Blessings

It's been a whirlwind couple of days in my Operation Christmas Child life.  Yesterday we were blessed to have two packing parties.  In each case God answered prayer and made them "immeasurably more" than we could imagine.

By 9:30 in the morning team members Pam and Terri and I had hauled everything out of my van and were set up to pack boxes with a group of beautiful women at the Erie City Mission.  We ended up completing 74 of them.  My favorite memory was watching a woman who at first didn't seem to want to participate end up creating a well-packed box.  When I gushed over it, she beamed.  I loved seeing her face light up like that.  Two women even took church kits home with a promise to try to get their churches involved.

Mission accomplished,  we loaded the boxes and the leftovers into my van.  Terri headed to work while Pam and I grabbed a quick lunch and then drove to the storage container to stow the finished boxes and restock my minivan for the evening packing party.

A few hours later Cindy and Heather arrived at my house for the drive to Camp Judson.  What an amazing time we had there with 4th-6th grade campers and their incredible counselors and staff.  All the staff pitched in and made the evening a joy as we packed 94 boxes together.

The kids really took their time choosing just the right stuffed animal and fillers for their boxes and even wrote letters to the shoebox recipients.  We prayed over those boxes and I have no doubt that God will use them to do great things.
We topped off the evening with ice cream before we headed home.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Cindy brought with her a trunk full of stuffed animals collected over the past weeks by her sister in New York.

So this morning started with sorting those 417 stuffed animals.  In the middle of that I got a call from a manager at Dollar General and headed there to pick up some unexpected donations.  Home again, I loaded the car and took off for the storage container to stow last evening's completed boxes and the leftover items.

I stood in the small space that's left in the storage container and felt some alarm at how that space seems to have shrunk.  After I took this picture I talked to God and asked Him to do again what only He can do and give us the space we need for all the blessings He's providing....because right now I don't know how 24 cases of soap, all the crayons and pens, and 50-100 more bags of stuffed animals will fit in there.

I drove home and got ready to head to Chick-fil-A where Pam and I joined Santa Cow in welcoming children who were bringing us donations of stuffed animals.

It was so heartwarming to see the kids who struggled to give up a few precious animals finally make that hard choice.  In my experience, donating stuffed animals is a real sacrifice for most kids and it was a great learning experience.  Getting a coupon for a free kids' meal from our generous friends at Chick-fil-A helped ease their pain.  We collected 123 stuffed animals and some small toys and school supplies also.

Those bags are waiting for the sorting process to start tomorrow...

When I'll return to managing our blessings.

ps--I just got an e-mail from a prospective team member tonight and set up a meeting for Thursday evening.   More blessing!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Retro--2007--The Gift Goes On

I love hearing and remembering stories of how God provides for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes all over the country and around the world.  Today's story started back in 2007 and I'll print the original tale below.

This humongous roll of wrapping paper was at least twice this size in 2007 when we first received it.  Today I spent 1.5 hours rolling paper off of it into smaller rolls.  I rolled off 30 pounds of paper and it still looked like I didn't touch it.  After all these years and all the boxes wrapped, the circumference still measures 19 inches.  This is really the "gift that keeps on giving" but here's how it started--

All Wrapped Up—2007

            A few weeks ago I was eyeballing our paper supply. Hmm—I’ll bet we’re going to run out of wrapping paper pretty soon I thought.  It looked like we had about 40 rolls left.  That sounds like a lot, but there’s not much paper on each of those rolls.  We can only wrap about 30 box lids from each one and now that we’re collecting up to 200 shoeboxes every week, I was concerned about not having enough.  I didn’t stop to pray about the need then, but I remember thinking that it could soon become a problem. 
            About a week later, I got an e-mail from Elizabeth Randolph, our church Family Ministries Director who also serves on our Operation Christmas Child team.  She wrote,

Steve Heitzenrater called the church office and left a message that he has access to a large roll of birthday wrapping paper that he would like to donate to the church.  I figured that it really doesn’t matter what type of paper we use to wrap shoeboxes, since they are not necessarily delivered at Christmas time.  So I called him today to let him know that we could use the paper.  After accepting the donation, I began getting a few more details and I hope I haven’t made a mistake!  It seems that he will need to call some men from his small group to help him unload it and carry it down the stairs.  I didn’t realize that when the message said large, it really meant large!  Sorry if I messed up on this!  I guess we could also use some of it for other things too!!

            I called Elizabeth to tell her I thought the donation of paper was a real blessing, since I had just noticed that we might be running out of it soon.  When I got to church a few days later and saw the roll sitting under the coat rack by the back door of the church I started to laugh.  The thing is three feet in diameter and I couldn’t budge it even when throwing all my weight against it.  The paper itself is perfect—a black background with all types of sports balls in fluorescent colors, but how will we ever move the roll?
            Two weeks later, on Easter Sunday, it was still sitting there in the same spot, flanked by the winter coats of churchgoers.   Later that day when the lobby area finally stood empty, my daughter, my husband, and I all threw our weight against the mammoth roll at one time, and we still couldn’t get it to move.  “I think we could wrap the whole church with this paper and still have half a roll left,” I said.  We all chuckled.  “Maybe I’ll just have to unwrap the paper and rewrap it onto other cardboard rolls a little at a time.” 
            Meanwhile it stands guard near the back door of the church as a silent monument to God’s provision for our project.  On Easter Sunday alone I probably gave the explanation 15 different times to church members who wanted to know about the giant roll. “Now we know God’s answering our prayers for Operation Christmas Child before we even pray them,” I told each of them. “I noticed that our wrapping paper supplies were getting low and look what He sent us.” 
            When it comes to meeting our needs, there’s no doubt about it—God has it all wrapped up.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crayon Update

Update on the crayon conundrum.   I've done the price matching at WalMart on the 24-packs of Crayola that are on sale at Toys R Us this week for .25 each.  I took my sales receipt from Toys R Us and only one cashier even questioned the price match.  That cashier called a manager who said it was fine.

Up to 1600 boxes now--almost 1/4th of the way to the total I need.

Now off to place an online order for plastic bags to put the sets of 8 crayons in.

Praying that favor continues and I can get even more boxes this week.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Crayon Conundrum

I admit it.  I'm a crayon snob.  I've used other brands of crayons in my Operation Christmas Child boxes from time to time but I am still stuck on Crayolas.  They draw so much better, and if a child's only going to get one set of crayons I'd like them to be nice ones.

So here I am trying to decide the best way to buy and finance crayons for this year's boxes.  If I buy 24-packs and split them into 3 packs of 8 crayons each, we will need 7,333 boxes to get to our goal of packing 22,000 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

The past few years God has blessed us by having those 24-packs of Crayolas go on sale at places where we can go to WalMart and price match larger quantities.

This year, like last year, Toys R Us has Crayola 24-packs on sale this week for 4/$1.00.  Perfect.

EXCEPT this year there is a limit of 8 boxes.

Not perfect.

There isn't an ad for this week's unadvertised special.  Last year that was the case also but a few WalMart stores matched the price anyway.  But this year's quantity limit changes things.

Last year Toys R Us also had the Crayola 24-packs on sale at 4/$1.00 near the end of July.  This was advertised in an ad with no limit and it was easy to price match them at WalMart and even Target.  But with the limits this week I'm expecting limits in any future sales, too.

I just checked a site called crayonking.com where they sell individual Crayola crayons in bulk but they're about 4 cents per crayon.  That's TWICE the price of the normal WalMart back-to-school price of 50 cents for a 24-pack.

What to do?

I'd like to encourage more people in our city to help in purchasing the crayons because at 50 cents a box at WalMart they're still a really great deal.  Where else can you bless the socks off three kids for 50 cents?

But that means getting the word out...and finding a place to collect them...and inventorying them...and waiting to see if they are nice crayons (aka Crayola--lol)...

More waiting....more praying....

Like I said....a conundrum.

Monday, July 8, 2013

More From Michaels

This is a busy week with my mother's 100th birthday party coming up on Saturday and my daughter's bridal shower on Sunday.  We're also getting all the carpets in our house cleaned tomorrow.

Today's agenda involved cleaning up messes NOT making them.  But when I was in the check-out line at Michaels with my four little spools of ribbon, I saw big boxes marked "grab bag" for $2.00 each.

Of course I couldn't resist buying one.  I took it to the car and opened it and found about 25 nice journals and notebooks and some other fun items.  The stuff was so great for $2.00 that I decided to take a gamble and go in and buy five more boxes.

To add to the fun, one of our OCC team members wrote a letter to the editor about our need for stuffed animals that was published in today's paper and included my phone number.  So I've been getting calls throughout the day, too.

I thought about putting the boxes into the attic to deal with next week, but I just couldn't wait to check them out.  And once I started I couldn't stop.

The total number of items in those boxes was 855, meaning I paid about 1 and 1/2 cents for each item.  There were pens and erasers and lots of notebooks, as well as stickers and craft items.

I ended up with about 500 usable items for shoeboxes and some other items that I'll probably be able to use for projects later.

it's sorted and stashed (sort of).  After hearing about so many others getting great deals at Michaels and coming up dry over and over again....it felt good to finally score there.

My plan was just to buy some ribbon, but thank You, God, for giving me more at Michaels.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Another Beanie Miracle

We have fewer stuffed animals for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes than we did at this time last year, and I've been praying about that.

Today I watched God answer prayer by using a chain of circumstances.  Last Sunday at church someone passed me a couple of folded bills and told me to use them to buy Beanie Babies.  When I got to my car and opened them up, I was shocked to find three $50 bills.

I was immensely encouraged by this generous donation and because of it I was more energized to go on the yard sale circuit this weekend.  I knew I only had several hours to hunt this morning, though, because of family responsibilities.

I was at the last block sale before heading home when I walked into a driveway that had several bins of pristine Beanie Babies for 50 cents each.  Now, normally I would consider that price too high.  I would go to the seller and ask about getting them for 25 cents.

But because I had that donation in my purse and because I was short on time, I decided to just start filling my bags with all I could find.  I started counting and got to 80 when my bag was full.

The seller came and gave me another bag....and then another.....and then another...until I had filled four bags with all the available regular sized Beanies.

Now it was time to pay.  "Do you know how many you have?"  the seller asked. And I honestly replied that I didn't know.  I thought about offering her one of the donated $50 bills, knowing that would be better than the 50 cents each she was asking.

But I waited and didn't say anything.

"Well," she said, "how about $20.00?"  I was ecstatic and told her over and over what a blessing these would be as she helped me carry them to my car.  She even took my card and said she'd call me about the possibility of donating more.

When I got home and counted them I found there were 154!  So I got them for less than 15 cents each.

I think about this chain of events and answered prayers, started because someone obeyed God when he was moved to make a donation.  I can't wait to see what God will do with the remaining $130 of that donation!

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Love Lucy Meets OCC

Did you ever feel like your Operation Christmas Child journey might make a good comedy show?  Yesterday was exactly like that for me.  While doing some cleaning in the attic I found six strands of great beaded Christmas garland and decided to make it into necklaces for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

I figured this would be like the ones I just finished making last week that were like Mardi Gras beads.  I'd cut them into lengths and attach the ends with hot glue and--voila!--necklaces.

I decided to measure out 27" lengths and got the yardstick and scissors.  I measured and made the first cut.  It sounded like this...

Snip...bop....ping...bop...ping...ping...ping...ping -- I had a flash of realization.  These garlands were made of strung beads and said beads were now bouncing off the table and onto the floor.

(Now....I fervently wish I had a video of this.  That would be so much better because word don't do it justice.)

I grabbed the end of the strand before any more beads could escape and decided this would be way easier than burning myself with the hot glue gun.  All I had to do was simply tie the ends together.

So I grabbed the ends and slipped one over the other and....bop...ping...bop...ping....ping....ping....ping

The strand slipped out of my hands and fell to the table, spewing more beads in its wake.  I remembered why I don't do crafts and why I struggled with hospital nursing.  I am woefully lacking in manual dexterity and have very poor hand-eye coordination.

So I decided to make a bracelet out of that first length.

I figured it would get easier now that I knew what to expect.  But I was wrong.

I tried to keep everything low to the table.  I tried to grab each strand quickly before too many beads flew off.  I tried to hold onto the strings tightly as I tied them.

But, alas, more and more beads ended up on the floor.  I began to see the hilarity in the situation and wished I could capture it on video.

I giggled.  Then I chortled.  My husband was trying to take a nap in the living room and wondered what was happening.

And still the beads fell all over the floor.

I persisted despite my handicaps and ended up with 24 necklaces (or bracelets) in the end.  Umm, some of those necklaces are kind of small, so I'm praying God will direct them to girls with tiny heads to slip them over.

But the best part of all of this is that I laughed.  I know my natural self and I know how easily I get frustrated.  My natural self would have thrown those beads across the room at the first sign of trouble.

But because God is gracious and because He is at work in me....I laughed.

This show brought to you by the grace of God.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Flipping For the Fourth

Being involved with Operation Christmas Child has made a big difference in the way I think about money.  Don't get me wrong--I still waste my share of money, time, and other resources.

But when you've seen how you can make such a difference in the life of a child and even a whole community with such a small investment...well, it changes you.

This morning my husband started our Fourth of July celebration by going to Perkin's for breakfast.  It cost less than $15.00 but I couldn't help but think that for just a bit more ($19.00 to be exact) I bought 38 pairs of flip-flops yesterday at Family Dollar.

Being able to give 38 children something to wear to protect their feet seems so much more exciting than eating those 3 flipped flapjacks this morning.

Today there is a deal going on at Walgreens where you can order an 8X10 photo collage for free using the promo code 8X10GH (today only).  If you pick it up at your local store there's no shipping either.

This is one of my favorite OCC pictures--taken by my friend Jane Landis at a shoebox distribution in Burkina Faso.  At first it looks like dirt on the back of those flip-flops but they are actually worn away.

So I made my free photo collage from these two pictures and put a title at the top that said, "A small investment can make a big difference..."

I plan to use it for our OCC display table.

Maybe it'll flip someone's thinking.