Monday, September 12, 2022

Ready For Action

 Round two! More loading and unloading of trucks. More tables set up. More prepping of items and arranging them on tables. And...we're ready to go again.

We worked hard on Friday and made stops at four different storage areas to get all our items to First Alliance Church. There was another neat way God saved us some work. By His grace I'd been in the container two weeks before and as God prompted me to take a count of washcloths and toothbrushes I realized we wouldn't have enough for all the boxes in this packing session. I was able to order more of each. The toothbrushes arrived promptly, but this week we still hadn't received the washcloths. On Thursday I communicated with the seller and found they'd been delivered to Birkmire (the trucking company where we rent our container) a week ago. On Friday when we were there to load our other items they were able to use the fork lift to bring them to us and we loaded the ones we need for this week and put the rest into the container for storage. It was great I didn't have to go up there earlier when they arrived and load them myself! ThankYou, Lord! 

We organized and got things set up so by that evening we were ready for Aaron to pick up the slippers from the warehouse that was generously storing them. God provided just the right number of volunteers to get them unloaded and placed along the walls. Thank You, Lord!

But when I counted the cartons I realized we were short almost 1600 pairs of slippers. I had a sleepless night trying to figure out what happened. I wasn't at the warehouse when the slippers were loaded but I told them to leave 12 pallets of them behind in the warehouse. I was thinking there were 8 cartons on each pallet and didn't realize that this load had pallets with 12 or even more cartons on them! We figured this out and I was able to get a truck to go back to the warehouse and get 68 more cartons of slippers back to First Alliance. I'm so glad we didn't find that out during this week. Thank You, Lord! 

So...we're ready for action! Bring on the volunteers and let the packing begin! 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Packing Number One Is Done


After months of uncertainty, hundreds of decisions, and many hours of preparation our first 2022 shoebox packing session is done. Not including setup, we planned to be in the building for five days--four days to pack the boxes and one day for cleanup.

By God's grace and because of so many excellent volunteers we finished packing all 11,200 boxes in 2.5 days. We worked another half day on Wednesday to start cleanup and finished on Thursday morning.

It was a good week--not without some hitches, of course, but a blessed week nonetheless. We were glad to have children and families join us again and loved watching them work so well together. 

I'm not sure how many cartons/boxes we had in the truck at the end of Monday night because a sudden storm came up and blew rain into the back of the truck so we had to quickly close it and pile cartons in the gym until Tuesday morning.

We did have that first truck filled and ready to pull by noon on Tuesday, though, and packed another 3400 after that to make a total of 9000 boxes by Tuesday night. The other 2,200 were filled on Wednesday by around 1:00 and the second truck was ready for its journey.

I want to praise God for so much answered prayer! We're grateful the high temperatures of Saturday and Monday (when we melted in the gym with no air conditioning) cooled off for Tuesday and Wednesday to make for much more pleasant packing. We could not have asked for a better and more flexible crew of volunteers to get this job done.

Last year the stress of managing volunteers left me frankly burned out and I was reluctant to face another set of packing parties this year. But God answered that need too when Ellen stepped up to take point on orienting and placing volunteers who always seemed to drift in one by one right after she'd given an orientation at the beginning of a shift. 

Having a larger facility was a true blessing. We had all our cartons, boxes, and supplies in the same area all at the same time. Granted, there was still a bit of chaos but people stepped up to break down all that cardboard when it was needed and pitched in to sweep up all those little pieces of red cardboard 'confetti' left from folding boxes and stock the tables at the end of every evening. 

Three of us worked this morning to finish cleaning and storing and were amazed when First Alliance offered to allow us to leave the things we need to use again in September right there in the gym. Praise God! 

Tonight I'm making calculations for September. I was a bit shocked to realize we still need another 165 reams of paper folded into packets of 15 sheets of paper each. I need to see if our paper folder Steve can complete that many in four weeks or we'll be farming that job out also. 

Still, despite the conflicts and challenges, there are 11,200 boxes on their way to Charlotte for the next leg of the journey. One down and only one more to go. 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

It's A Setup


Here we are again on Packing Party Eve. It's been a long road this year with lots of prayer and soul searching about whether we should even attempt to do a packing party this year. Just six months ago we had very few anchor items and no prospects for buying them on the horizon. Between that and some personal problems caused by my own sinful nature it seemed last year's 13th packing party might be the last.

Then in early February at our Area Coordinators' Planning Meeting we were singing "Oceans" during worship and I had an impression that we should not only have a packing party this year but we should pack 19,000 boxes. I still don't know if that will happen but God is getting us closer.

In the past six months God provided a new venue, more than 30,000 beautiful "Wow" items for boxes and another 37,000 stuffed animals. And while my personal sin problems won't be solved this side of heaven, I've recognized them, tried to confess them, and asked for prayer from everyone I can think of. 

I'd be lying if I said I am totally confident we will get to the end of this packing week with two trucks filled with packed shoe boxes and that I caused no offense to anyone. 

If anything the battle just keeps getting stronger. We have one packing party team member and her family totally out because of illness and one who has faithfully loaded our trucks for years is recovering from surgery and cannot lift. Because of work schedules and other issues we are down to a few team members who can manage volunteers, stock tables, load the truck, and keep up with cardboard disposal. 

But God has a habit of bringing unlikely people to come alongside us in unlikely ways. I hope I'll be telling you about some of them in my next 'victory' posts.

Meanwhile, because of the tireless work of some non-team volunteers yesterday all 8,000 baseball hats are out of their boxes. And...well...I'd say we have quite a few folded boxes ready to pack!

Catching Up


Writing. I haven't done it for some time. At least not on this blog. And tomorrow begins our official packing for 2022, so I thought I should catch up a bit on all the ways Jehovah Jireh has answered our prayers over the past three months or so.

First, the facility at Grace Church where we hosted our community-wide packing party since 2009 is constructing a video production studio in the area we used to use for packing boxes. By God's grace, at the end of April we were able to secure a new venue at First Alliance Church. This provides a larger space for us and the church was so accommodating in clearing their calendar for us to use their large gym. Unfortunately, it's not air conditioned so we're praying for cooler weather this coming week.

Then, on May 2nd, we received a truckload of items for our boxes. As always, we prayed hard about all the details of this delivery. This was the culmination of five months of steps orchestrated by our merciful God and brought us 19,000+ baseball hats, over 1,500 pairs of children's character slippers, and 6 pallets of miscellaneous fillers. Those pallets of fillers were a gamble but God provided over 2,000 stuffed animals as well as many fun toys on them. 

At the beginning of June God blessed us with the opportunity to buy more than 12,000 more pairs of children's slippers. That's more than we need for this year, but we didn't want to pass up the opportunity. We weren't sure how to get them shipped but ultimately Logistics Plus, a local shipping company, arranged the shipping for us at their cost and that saved us money in this crazy economy with gas prices soaring. 

We also weren't sure where we could store this latest truckload of slippers. Thank You, Lord, for providing the Danowskis to offer us space in their newly rented warehouse. I was out of town with our ministry coordinators at Operation Christmas Child recruitment training when the truck arrived on 6/18/22 but there were enough volunteers to get the job done and God even provided a man with a fork lift to unload the truck. A couple weeks later we needed to move the 9 pallets of large plush bunnies from that warehouse. I didn't know where we would put them so I put out a plea on Facebook and God provided what we needed! 

We were still praying for about 7,000-8,000 more stuffed animals for this year. God did "exceedingly, abundantly beyond", though, and Ellen found a contact to buy 27,000 from a man in Ohio who was selling the Beanie Baby collection amassed by his 90-year-old father who died this past May. Going to pick them up was quite an adventure, but God worked out the details. Four team members helped finance the $10,000 cash purchase plus another $1000 to pay for renting a truck to transport them. Now we have more than we need for this year and will have to move them again to another storage spot once this year's packing is done. It seems God is preparing us for 2023 packing already. 

And here we are just a few weeks later getting ready to start this year's packing. Two days ago we received our shipment of cartons and boxes to get ready for attempting to pack 11,200 boxes to fill two trucks. We prayed much over the delivery and God blessed us as the truck driver used his pallet jack to pull the pallets into the gym for us.  Later that day we took a borrowed truck to pick up stuffed animals from storage. 

Yesterday we had to load and unload two large trucks full of items from our main storage container and another team member's basement. God provided the trucks, the volunteers, and a DRY (though hot!) day for the job. By 3:00 yesterday afternoon we had the gym set up and ready to pack--the earliest we've done this for the past three years. 

Today we're enjoying a sabbath and praising God for a busy three months that brought us to the brink of another packing adventure. Tomorrow we start and trust God to do it AGAIN! 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Red Sea Deliverance


Did you ever go through a period of pull and tug that feels like a bit of a Red Sea experience? Our packing party team has had months of this. I can't even explain all the ways that I, for one, have felt confusion and a lack of discernment since last summer about whether God even wanted us to continue packing large numbers of boxes. 

This feeling isn't anything new, really, I guess. This is a hard task and every year I wonder whether God is telling us it's time to end it. This year, though, has been especially hard. We found out last year we'd be losing much of the space we've used for packing since we began these packing parties in 2009.

Then, last fall, we lost storage containers and went from three down to one. At the same time we lost alternate basement storage space, too. And last year's packing sessions had depleted our team in so many ways. Were we too exhausted and too old to do this again? 

Still, I think each person on our team kept thinking of the children who receive these shoeboxes. We know each box means one more child and his/her family will have an opportunity to hear of God's love. So, we've continued moving forward step by step. 

This morning I read again the story of the crossing of the Red Sea--that amazing deliverance of God's people. Don't we all long for that kind of deliverance? We want to see God come through for us in inexplicable but tangible ways. And...He does!

The past few days have been nothing short of amazing. My husband and I went to meet with the staff at another nearby church about the possibility of using their large gym to pack our boxes this year and they were so welcoming and accommodating. It sounds dramatic but it was honestly a bit like watching the Red Sea part.

We also got several donations of stuffed animals over the last few days. It's just encouraging to see God provide like that. And by God's grace we're awaiting a shipment of items for packing this year's boxes even as we trust God for the 10,000 stuffed animals and additional fillers we need to round them out. We're not through the Red Sea yet but we're following Him.

I just re-read something I wrote last year on this day when I read the same passage in Exodus about the Red Sea and wanted to record it here to save it:

Steps When You Face A Red Sea:

1) Settle down (don't fear!)
2) Stand by (wait expectantly)
3) Stay silent but go forward (let God fight for you)
4) Stretch out your staff (act when God tells you to)
5) See salvation (watch for deliverance)
6) Serve the Savior (rejoice in His salvation) 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Making Space


Does anyone else feel like life involves constantly making space? In a spiritual sense I've been struggling lately to move out sinful attitudes and bitterness to make space to love others and abide in Jesus. It's a never-ending battle I've been fighting all my life. Even with the Holy Spirit working in me I can never seem to make space the way I should. I'm so glad Paul wrote in Romans 7:15 "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." It gives me hope to hear him say he struggled too.

And in a packing party sense we were making space today in our storage container. We know we have to use every square centimeter of that space as wisely as possible so today five of us worked to get the things we know we won't need until later to the back end of the container and the things we may need sooner to the front. After two hours it looks so much better, we have a schematic in hand to remind us of what is where, and I feel relief. 

Back in the days when we did one large packing party and unloaded the container all at the same time it didn't make so much difference. Now, though, we're pretty sure we're doing a week of packing in August and another week in September so we don't want to have to unload it all and repack it. The fact that our storage is miles away from our anticipated packing venue makes it even trickier. 

Speaking of venue, we finally got our shipping window dates so we can begin to make plans. It doesn't help that we got those right before Easter when it's tough to make any connections with church staff, but we had a team meeting yesterday and made some decisions so today I'm going to craft emails and try to get some meetings set up. 

The main reason we had to get that storage unit ready for service is that God gave us favor and allowed us to make that large order of tens of thousands of shoebox items (probably 36 pallets of them) at great prices. We're not home yet. We still need to pray in another 10,000 stuffed animals and some other fillers but we have many of the basic items. It's possible we could fill four trucks IF we get a venue and can recruit enough volunteers to pack. 

Meanwhile, I'm still praying God will help me make space to store what I need to store and clean out what I need to clean out--both physically and spiritually. Neverending effort for sure. 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Working It Out

There are still so many questions that need to be worked out about this year's shoebox packing and so many decisions that can't even be made. We're waiting to hear from Operation Christmas Child about the directives for this year and the shipping windows. We're waiting to hear from a major supplier about whether items we want to order are available at a price we can afford. We're doing a lot of waiting.

But while we're waiting God is blessing us in increments we can handle. Last week it was the paper donation. Then yesterday I picked up a donation of new tote bags to include in our boxes. Yesterday I spent some time working on rolling them and securing them with rubber bands.

Working. I think of all the ways over the years God has worked to get the prep work done for our shoebox packing. Back in the early years we did it ALL in one Saturday event. We didn't fold boxes ahead of time. We didn't make up paper packets ahead of time. We didn't bag crayons ahead of time. Looking back, it seems crazy. But somehow it worked! We had hundreds of volunteers and we used most of the church building. In one room young Girl Scouts joined with older volunteers to count out and staple paper. In another room volunteers bagged crayons. And all over the church--even on the stage in the worship center--people were folding boxes. All this while lines of volunteers walked around filling those boxes. 

Somehow, though, we found the wisdom of preparing in advance. I started taking boxes of crayons or paper to different individuals so they could work on them. I spent a lot of time trying to keep track of who had what and driving around town to deliver crayons or paper to people who needed more. Then one year we got a donation of jump rope handles and started making jump ropes. Now I was driving around town delivering jump rope handles and pieces of rope to volunteers who assembled them. I counted out the handles by the hundreds and paired them with equal numbers of rope lengths but there were still always calls that said, "I'm short two jump rope handles." Sigh.

When all that organization and driving around became too much we came up with the idea of having work days throughout the spring and summer. Volunteers would come to the church where we had supplies right there and all would work together to accomplish the paper stapling, crayon bagging, and jump rope making along with other assorted tasks. This worked well for the most part...until...


We still had a few smaller work days but with masking and social distancing and limited group sizes it became harder to pull these off. Most work days in the last two years involved just our small team working together so much work was still done in homes. 

This brings us to 2022. We no longer have a donor for jump rope handles so we're not assembling ropes. We've found a few highly competent volunteers to fold paper and bag crayons. This assures higher quality and though we're still delivering supplies it's only to a few trusted people. 

Now that pandemic restrictions are lifted some are wondering if we'll go back to having community work days. Our team hasn't made a final decision but the short answer is--probably, no. We no longer have storage at the church where we've packed the boxes all these years and we also don't have access to the area of the church where we held work days and packed boxes before. We could potentially use another area of the church or find another church to host work days, but our storage is now miles away. In order to do a simple task like sorting cups we need to transport the cups to the area where we're having the work day, sort the cups (a task that would probably only take a half hour with 15 people) and then transport all those cartons back to the storage container. Logistically it doesn't make sense. will we accomplish these tasks like sorting? I'm not sure yet. Maybe that prep work will be part of the packing week, like it was in the 'old days'. Or maybe a few people from the team will take things home and work on them ahead of time. 

There's a lot we're still just working out.