Community puts together gifts for children worldwide

Pittsburgh residents use shoeboxes to wrap and send gifts

Written By Shannon Hartnett, Co-Opinions Editor

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Photo by Shannon Hartnett
Some packed boxes of gifts from the members of Homestead Park Methodist Church on Nov. 24.

Rather than spending his day at work as an engineer on the Class 1 railroads, Richard Scott took time off to help Operation Christmas Child (OCC) during the holiday season. 

“It’s the best time of the year for me,” Scott said.

The OCC is a ministry organization whose goal is to provide children in underdeveloped countries with toys for Christmas. 

The communication guide says that OCC – the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind – hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in more than 100 countries.

Scott wrestled with alcohol and drugs before becoming sober. With his new outlook on life he intends to give back to others as much as he can. 

“Having [a] real feeling of salvation and being rescued, given that second chance, being saved from the grip of drugs and alcohol,” Scott said. “I see such a high in this ministry and in helping and serving because I’ve seen the lows and I’ve seen some really ugly things. But that’s changed.” 

Scott started by going to stores like Target and K-Mart and getting shoe boxes in the hundreds. 

“I understood what the ministry accomplished and what it did,” Scott said. “I saw the spirit of giving in people. That’s always attracted me, people just giving selflessly, children giving selflessly, and that was an immediate attraction to me. In this big ministry, the end result is that the children receive the opportunity to understand the love of Jesus. I love that about OCC.”

According to the OCC communication guide, over 10.6 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2018, 8.8 million of which came from the U.S. Scott contributes to that number every year.

“I try to beat my goal every year, so I’m up to 50 boxes,” Scott said. “I look all year for supplies. I had the opportunity to talk to someone who received a box when he was a child and I asked him what was in the box and he said a truck. I said, ‘I love trucks’ and we just smiled. I shook his hand and I’ve been putting nice toy trucks in the boxes ever since.” 

When looking for gifts and supplies for the boxes, Scott said he gravitates toward girls ages 2-4. When he discovered that boys ages 10-14 were the least contributed group, he started contributing to them more. 

Throughout the year, Scott said he gets ideas for what sort of gifts to give, and when he comes across a deal, he buys it and stores it in his shed. 

One of the most common items Scott collects for the kids is pens. 

“I grab pens everywhere I go, that’s school supplies,” Scott said. “It sticks with me that the children will have an opportunity to go to school and they might only need that pen, so that’s another key focus.”

While toys are “clearly essential,” school supplies and toiletries are essential as well.

“You can be handed a bible and not have shoes on your feet, but you might be better served if you have shoes, socks, pens, pencils and then a bible,” Scott said.

The OCC communication guide says that more than 100,000 volunteers serve in the U.S. during National Collection Week and processing season. 

Alyssa Campbell, a sophomore public relations and advertising major, brought the project to Point Park after participating since she was young with her church, with plans to make it bigger. The drop off dates for the boxes were November 18 and 20 on Point Park’s campus, just before Thanksgiving break.

“For next year I want OCC to be even bigger,” Campbell said. “Last year I ordered a bunch of stuff online and I unfortunately lost a lot of it, but next year we are going to get more supplies.” 

To start, Cambell explained that volunteers like Scott have a shoebox and they pick an age range and gender themselves, and fill that box and ship it off to a child somewhere. 

The stuff that goes in the box can range from personal hygiene items such as bars of soap to toys such as coloring books, crayons and small balls. However, there are limits to some of the things that you put in the boxes. Liquids, war related toys and food are typically not allowed to go into the boxes. 

According to Campbell, a table is set up on Wednesday nights outside of The U before the OCC had their service advertised. 

“Alyssa really headed up the whole thing,” Sara Pais, president of The U and senior mass communication major, said. “[She] told me she ordered 50 boxes and that she would be happy with giving away 10, but we gave out all the boxes, so I’m excited about that.” 

The U is a student organization on campus that allows Christian students to gather together and attend a weekly service and fellowship.  

With Pais graduating next spring, she hopes that the next leader of The U welcomes Campbell and helps her do this project again.

“There are so many little kids who are going to be blessed by this and it’s so cool to see college students doing it,” Pais said.

According to Campbell, they received 25 boxes total, which exceeded expectations. 

“We all know the folks who have struggled and succumbed to [drugs and alcohol], and there’s a lot of reasons why I could have ended up that way, thousands of times, but I was spared so I’ll continue to serve to give back for the second chance I’ve been given,” Scott said.

Scott, like others, finds satisfaction and comfort in doing their part to give back and help a child in need.

“This one time this woman came in looking pretty frail with her husband, gave the box and thanked us. She said a small prayer and left, and then her husband came back in and gave us the money donation,” Scott said. “I asked ‘Is your wife okay? She looks a little tired.’ He said she had stage four lung cancer. Despite her sickness she made it to the church with a completely packed box to give, with whatever time she had left.”

“You’ll always find a positive upshot out of me, every time, because there is no reason to be otherwise,” Scott said.

Scott said he doesn’t like “to get caught up with the numbers” when it comes to how many boxes were donated.

“I’ll hear people say we had a bad year, we didn’t get as many boxes, but I have to stop them, because I will not attach any negative aspect to this ministry,” Scott said. “We get as many boxes as we were intended to get, not less than last year, there’s no negative, positive all the time.”

Keeping negatives out of this aspect, Scott is proud of the work and effort he and the members of his ministry do for the OCC, but is humbled by their personal reasons to give back.

“I’m just another cog on the wheel,” Scott said. “I strive to hear the words one day, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’ I consider it a privilege and an honor to serve in this ministry.”