Sandy Biggs has a very long Christmas shopping list, but luckily she’s had a lot of help filling it this year.
Biggs is the Cache Valley point person for Operation Christmas Child, an international evangelical program that delivers care packages to needy children around the world, and this year the local effort reached new heights by preparing and shipping out more than 1,000 shoeboxes full of gifts, living supplies and Christian outreach materials for kids.
As secretary at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Hyrum, Biggs started coordinating her congregation’s care-package efforts three years ago, and the church itself has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for at least the past two decades. But it wasn’t until 2018, when Biggs volunteered Emmanuel Baptist to be an official drop site in the program, that things really took off.
“Sometimes in the past we were only able to send 10, 15, maybe 20 boxes for the program,” she said. “Then they asked for someone in our area to be a drop site, so of course I raised my hand because we have the space to house these boxes when they come in.”
Biggs’ fellow church members embraced the idea, and before long it became a major operation. Last year Emmanuel Baptist worked with other churches, businesses and individuals to fill 438 shoeboxes, and this year they put together 1,026 of the care packages, which were shipped to Denver in a truck last Monday.
Help and donations have come from a wide variety of sources, including the Hyrum Senior Center, nurses at Bear Lake Community Hospital, Providence dentist Dave Gordon, Reed’s Pharmacy in Hyrum, Hobby Lobby, Harbor Freight, Latter-day Saint wards in Hyrum, Paradise and Hyde Park, and even the children of Smithfield Baptist Church, who donated money from collections at their vacation bible school.
“We’ll do it again next year, and we’d love for people to help us,” Biggs said. “I’m trying to make it snowball.”
Operation Christmas Child is one of several programs launched by the international relief organization and Christian ministry known as Samaritan’s Purse, founded in 1970 by evangelist Bob Pierce with the aim of bringing humanitarian relief along with Christian teachings to the impoverished corners of the world. After Pierce’s death in 1978, the organization was taken over by Franklin Graham, the son of world famous evangelist Billy Graham.
In 2018, Operation Christmas Child reported delivering 10.6 million gift boxes worldwide.
Filling the shoeboxes is both challenging and fun, according to Biggs. With just a couple of established do’s and don’ts, the contents are entirely up to the donor.
Biggs’ boxes often include hygiene items and other practical supplies like socks, pencils, notebooks, sewing kits, hammers, nails, fishhooks and fishing line. And, of course, child gift items like toys and stuffed animals are also included.
“It’s whatever you deem you want to put in your box,” she said. “Like last year we had a lady who put in watches and calculators. You just can’t believe the things that people think of.”
Finally, each box includes a Bible that matches the language of the area it is being sent to, and when delivery is made, the recipients receive “The Greatest Gift,” a storybook that includes 11 stories from scripture intended to attract children to the teachings of Christ.
Although Biggs is gratified by the large community and interfaith outpouring for the cause and credits Latter-day Saint participation as being “our saving grace,” not everyone she’s approached has risen to the occasion.
“I’ve talked to some people that I thought would give money, but they said no. One guy said I do nothing affiliated with any church, and that kind of thing just busts my bubble, because I tell people it’s not a church thing, it’s a God thing. It’s a total service project.”
Biggs can be contacted through the church at (435) 245-5898.