COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Many in the Midlands are already in the giving spirit, and there are thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes to prove it.
It's called Operation Christmas Child, and each box has been packed by a donor for a child they will likely never meet.
"We're packing joy, we're packing happiness," said Jan Gillotte, a volunteer for OCC who's helping to coordinate the collection of shoeboxes across the Midlands.
Big brown boxes filled with the nearly 20 shoeboxes each are being loaded onto a delivery truck at North Trenholm Baptist Church this week. The church is one of the drop-off points in the Midlands for National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child.
"Many times these shoeboxes will go right with a disaster relief team, or to an orphanage where there's a need for medical attention," said volunteer John Myers.
Myers knows firsthand about the impact of a shoebox. He and his wife, Betty, have been packing shoeboxes for years through Operation Christmas Child, and last year he received a letter he never expected.
"We were blown away," said Myers. "We said who in the world in Zimbabwe is writing us?"
In the letter, a picture of the 12 year-old boy who received the box of gifts John packed and a thank you.
"My parents are good to us all, but it's difficult for them to buy us presents," read the letter. It continued, "I thank the Lord for making you a member of my family and helping in this needy situation."
Like Myers, each year the Boone, North Carolina based organization Samaritan's Purse gives people nationwide the chance to impact a child's life through a box.
"They are packing toys, hygiene items and school supplies," said Gillotte. "These are children that have never had that before."
Over the past 20 years, Operation Christmas Child has delivered more than 100 million shoeboxes of joy worldwide.
"The prayer for each shoebox is that, one, it will bring that child hope, and that it will introduce them to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," said Myers. "We've found over and over and over families are changing and people are finding the Lord, and it's changing whole communities."
They're hoping to do it again this year- one shoebox at a time. "Each shoebox you can pack is one more child that can receive these gifts, and of course the Gospel message," said Betty Myers.
Volunteers say 29,000 shoeboxes were collected in the Midlands last year, and they're hoping to collect around 32,000 this year.