The ministry is called Operation Christmas Child and Shepherdstown's Bob McHenry works at it all year long. McHenry serves as the year-round network coordinator in and around the Eastern Panhandle. McHenry operates from his church, Covenant Baptist, which is the central drop-off point for shoe boxes filled for youth around the world.
Having served as a volunteer with Samaritan's Purse, the organization that oversees the Operation Christmas Child program, McHenry says that "this is one of the greatest ministries I have ever been connected with. It is a joy to see others come into this ministry and catch the vision."
McHenry shares that vision with churches throughout Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties, Washington County, Md., as well as in Clarke and Frederick counties in Virginia. Part of his task is to speak in churches about the program to find out if those churches would care to participate.
The program itself is a simple one. Shoe boxes, which can be ordered through Samaritan's Purse, are filled with items age appropriate for youth between 2 and 14. Items can include thins such as school supplies, personal hygiene items, small toys and other items like t-shirts, caps or flashlights. The items are packed specifically for age and boys and girls.
Boxes then make their way around the world to children in more than 130 countries who otherwise may not have a Christmas gift.
In addition to the items packed, each box also contains three booklets on the gospel. The boxes are delivered through churches in the foreign countries. Representatives from Samaritan's Purse are then able to follow up to offer guidance in the gospel lessons.
McHenry shared, "Millions are coming to Christ over something as simple as packing a shoebox and sending it on a journey."
Covenant Church serves as the gathering point for boxes which are then packed into tractor trailers and sent to packaging centers where they are inspected. Some items are not appropriate and may have to be removed from boxes, such as liquids and any type of plaything that represents soldiers, guns, etc. These types of items could cause distress to the child receiving the box.
McHenry explained that at the packaging centers, there are bins of items to more fully pack a box and hundreds of volunteers travel to the centers to help prepare the boxes for their final journeys. One such center is located in Charlotte, N.C., where McHenry plans to take a group of local volunteers in December.
"These boxes, especially if they contain a personal note, are one the child's most treasured possessions," McHenry said.
More than 640,000 boxes were collected in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2010. 2012 marks the 100 millionth shoe box that will be distributed through the program since it was by Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse in 1993.
Several churches in Jefferson County participate in the Operation Christmas Child program including New Street United Methodist and St. Agnes Catholic in Shepherdstown. McHenry said the goal is to expand the program into other churches in the area. He spends time speaking at churches to explain the process.
"You can spend an hour packing a shoebox and touch a life for a lifetime," he said.
For those who may be interested in finding out more about the Operation Christmas Child program, contact McHenry at 540-336-6963 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Churches will pack their boxes and have them ready for pick up in November.