For more than two decades, Geist-area resident Amber Best has been making an impact with her volunteer work with Operation Christmas Child and its parent organization, Samaritan’s Purse.
The OCC is widely known for its shoebox projects, where groups from many different nations pack shoeboxes full of items for needy kids in countries all around the world.
“I’ve been packing and collecting shoeboxes since 1996,” Best said. “My husband Rich and I have just really enjoyed getting to share that ministry with our kids and to teach them to give back, even at a very young age. We would shop for shoebox items together. First Rich and I did it, and then we did it as a family. They were able to see what we were doing together to help children around the world, and I love that.”
Best has been married to her husband Richard for 32 years. Together, they have two children, Logan, 20, and Lorian, 18.
Today, Best serves as an area coordinator for OCC, a two-year, volunteer position. Having recently visited Rwanda Best said she is excited to help welcome someone who has been on the receiving end of a shoebox.
The speaker will address congregations of both the 9:15 and 11 a.m. services at Chapel Rock Christian Church, 2020 N. Girls School Rd., Indianapolis, on Sept. 17.
OCC serves approximately 120 countries, and because of its widespread collection and distribution, OCC isn’t just limited to Christmastime.
“It’s a year-round organization,” Best said. “We deliver shoeboxes starting right before Christmas, if they’re close, all through August of the following year.”
Best said it takes a significant amount of time for boxes to be inspected at processing centers then shipped around the world.
Boxes include a wide variety of items, split up by age groups and gender.
“Some of the first things we ask for are school supplies, because many times the supplies that are put in their boxes give them the opportunity to go to school,” Best said. “Those items can be very expensive in their country. We’ve heard stories of students tying the pencils to their belt loop so they don’t lose them. It’s just amazing how they will utilize everything that’s been given to them.”
Best said OCC also asks for what they term as a “wow item,” such as a toy.
“One of the greatest things to put in is a soccer ball, which seems to be the universal toy for both girls and boys,” Best said. “You take all the air out of it, put rubberbands around it, and then you put in one of those little hand (air) pumps. The neat thing about a soccer ball, or a baseball and glove, is it creates community. They can share.”
Best said some people make items, like knitted hats, sewn bags, fishing and sewing kits, wooden toys and more. Other items include hygiene items like soap, washcloths, toothbrushes, etc.
“I have personally heard young men and women pull out a bar of soap or a toothbrush and just be so excited because they happen to be in an orphanage, and it meant they didn’t have to share,” Best said.
Best said there are several things that aren’t allowed in the shoeboxes due to shipping or customs issues, such as liquids or anything that could potentially spill or melt and ruin the shoebox, like food, candy, gum, toothpaste, ointments, nail polish, etc.
Indiana is part of OCC’s Great Lakes region, which also includes Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia.
“Our regional goal for Operation Christmas Child is 1 million shoeboxes,” Best said. “We work year-round to grow this ministry.”
Anyone in volunteering or learning more should visit samaritanspurse.org.
Earlier this year, Amber Best traveled to Kigali, Rwanda’s capitol, to personally deliver shoeboxes to children.
From May 18 to 25, Best traveled with a team of approximately 80 fellow volunteers from all across the United States.
“It gave us an opportunity to see firsthand the ministry in Rwanda, how it’s organized, our volunteers and staff. It was just a great opportunity for us to see the other side of the box,” Best said. “We had several different distributions (during that trip), some at churches, and one at a school. It was an amazing experience to be able to actually hand a child their shoebox and then be part of helping them to open it, see what was in it and talk with them and share with them.”
While there, Best also stayed in the Hôtel des Mille Collines, famous for its safeguarding of more than 1,200 Rwandans during the nation’s 1994 genocide, inspiring the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda.”
OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD BY THE NUMBERS
- 11 – Number of areas shoeboxes are collected from (U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Austria, Finland and Japan)
- 135M – Shoeboxes given worldwide since OCC’s inception
- 2M – Shoeboxes that will be collected in Indiana this year
- 120 – Countries that receive shoeboxes each year.
- 500K – Volunteers worldwide
- 125K – U.S. volunteers
12M – Shoeboxes collected worldwide in 2016