Girls and boys from across the globe will soon open shoeboxes packaged with care and given with affection. That is the mission of Operation Christmas Child.
Farmington City Council member Robyn Craig reminded locals to volunteer at the local Operation Christmas Child during a council roundtable. Each year, the Minneapolis warehouse moves and this year it was housed minutes away from Farmington.
Operation Christmas Child has operated since 1993. This year the Minnesota warehouse expects to process 620,000 shoeboxes as one of eight warehouses in the country. The total number may exceed 9 million shoeboxes for children who live in Third World countries.
"I have helped out on and off for the last 10 years, and it feels good when you volunteer and help out and it is great to see the gifts packaged for children and that is heartwarming," Craig said.
Hundreds of volunteers arrive at the Minnesota warehouse that looks like Santa's workshop but resembles an assembly line factory floor. They get busy loading paper and plastic shoeboxes into boxes. Volunteers include youth groups, civic groups, Boy and Girl Scout troops, along with churches from across the region.
"It is for anyone who feels compelled to give the gifts to children from around the world that do not have anything," Craig said.
Rick Cox, manager with the Minneapolis processing center, said Operation Christmas Child is one philanthropic ministry run by the nonprofit organization known around the world for international relief and domestic outreach. Cox works full time for Samaritan's Purse, operated by Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Dr. Billy Graham.
Cox recalls fond memories when he traveled abroad to deliver shoeboxes in 2016 in person.
"You never outgrow it -- to watch the children - most of them have never received anything new and their faces light up and they close the box because they think they may have to share it or give it back," Cox said. "They have an almost overwhelmed look on their faces and it is almost unimaginable for them," he added.
Operation Christmas Child comes together with plenty of preparation.
"We are working on this all year round with almost 9,000 volunteers from around the country and what we do is we recruit them, coach and lead them," Cox said. With only 100 full-time employees who work for Operation Christmas Child, recruiting volunteers is paramount.
Most shoeboxes are packaged by volunteers at churches and there are more than 5,000 drop off locations around the country.
Even though it is Christian-based organization, not all volunteers are Christian. Everyone is welcome to volunteer, donate and participate.
Families can donate simple things such as plush toys or small clothing items, cards, games or toys, school supplies and hygiene items. "Anything that tells them someone cares for them," Cox said.
The processing center begins work in late October and wraps up the Santa's workshop two months later. Shoeboxes at the Minneapolis processing center leave for St. Paul and are transported by train and then are shipped off to the East Coast. Then the shoeboxes are loaded on boats to the Philippines, South Africa. Trinidad and Tobago and more.
"A lot of children really love the simple things like the washcloth and soap and we have seen stories about how some of the boys and girls even carry water on their heads with the plastic boxes," Cox said.
One donor and loyal volunteer for 13 years is Wendy Muilenburg who worked in the Minnesota processing center.
"This is a ministry where we have the opportunity to share the gospel with people who do not know him," Muilenburg said. Inside each shoebox, each child is given a Bible that is translated into his or her own language.
Shoebox donors are encouraged to tuck in handwritten cards and family photos to help bring bright smiles to the faces of young boys and girls.