By Gail Hollenbeck
Faith-based organizations are making sure that needy and homeless children, even those in other parts of the world, receive a gift this Christmas. And Hernando County residents can help.
Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, asks churches and individuals to pack a shoe box filled with gifts for children in three age groups. Participants can select the age group and gender of the child and find a list of suggestions of what to pack online at samaritanspurse.org/occ.
Gifts are put into an unwrapped shoe box, and during the week of Nov. 12 through 19, taken to one of three area churches that are designated drop-off sites.
“The ministry gives us, as Christians, the opportunity to be hands-on in spreading God’s love and the joy of Christmas to children around the world who never have experienced it,” said Jeb Berleth, who heads the project for Spring Hill Baptist Church. “Each shoe box brings that love and joy in a tangible way, but it also brings the greatest gift of all: Jesus, as they get to hear the Gospel.”
Hobby Lobby, at 12950 Cortez Blvd. in Spring Hill, has plastic boxes with the Operation Christmas Child logo available for $2.99, along with informational pamphlets and areas in the store offering gift ideas.
Cardboard boxes are free at the drop-off sites. Call for drop-off times:
Wilderness Lake Church, 15511 US Hwy 41, Spring Hill, (352) 302-1342.
First Baptist Church of Brooksville, 420 Howell Ave., (352) 796-6791.
Spring Hill Baptist Church, 3140 Mariner Blvd., (352) 683-5685.
“Last year we collected 1,006 shoe-box gifts as a church, as well as 2,819 shoe-box gifts as a collection site,” Berleth said. “Our church volunteers, both children and adults, love to come together fellowshipping, serving and packing shoe-box gifts and cartons. Everyone feels the joy of the Lord throughout the whole week. It is such a blessing to us, to all who pack, who serve.”
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Along with their red kettles at various stores during the Christmas season, the Salvation Army places Angel Trees at the three Hernando County Walmart stores.
“Angel Tree is an exciting program, and it means so much to the families that we serve when someone takes the time to make Christmas a happy time for their children,” said Lt. Julie Chamberlain of the Brooksville Salvation Army. “We couldn’t do it without the generosity of the community.”
People who want to purchase gifts for needy children are asked to take an “angel tag” from one of the trees. Each tag has information about the needs and wants of a particular child, plus the child's gender, age and clothing sizes. The purchased, unwrapped gifts can then be dropped off by Dec. 13 at the local ministry at 15464 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.
According to the Salvation Army USA Web page: “We put new clothes and toys under the tree for 1 million children who usually have to go without Christmas gifts. Anonymous donors adopt these little "angels" in an expanding Christmas tradition that makes the season brighter for both the gift giver and receiver.”
Chamberlain said there are lots of opportunities for people to help.
“People can contact us to adopt angels or to volunteer in the warehouse,” Chamberlain said. “Also, we are still looking for community partners to host trees or adopt families.”
Call (352) 796-1186.