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Originally published: 2013-09-04 17:24:47
Last modified: 2013-09-04 17:25:31

Any time of the year is good to shop for shoeboxes of hope

by Jesse Campbell

Dan and Emi Jarvis of Jefferson are always on the lookout for discounted toys and school supplies when they are out shopping. 

It's not because they have a particular child in mind or even know the budding student they are shopping for. 

In all likelihood, the couple will never see the beaming face of the child they have personally touched or hear the laughter and joy their philanthropy has brought. 

The couple spends an ample amount of time carefully selecting and arranging items to fit in a shoebox to ship overseas to needy children they will never meet. 

The Jarvises are annual volunteers for Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child Project. 

Now in its 20th year, the Christian international outreach works to collect, organize and distribute shoeboxes to children in more than 100 countries across the world. 

While the holiday season is more than four months away, the Boone-based nonprofit organization said it is never too early to start thinking of those in need. 

With school and classes having started across the High Country, a special emphasis has been placed with keeping those less fortunate in mind who are in dire need of school supplies. 

"This is the perfect time to stock up on Christmas gifts and we want to make sure we don't forget about the kids around the world who don't have enough school supplies," said Todd Lotz, media relations associate for Samaritan's Purse. "This year we are celebrating 20 years of impacting children around the world."

For many of these children, who come from several generations of impoverished families, the shoeboxes are their point of contact with Christianity and "what Jesus is all about," Lotz said. 

The Jarvises began to volunteer for Samaritan's Purse prior to 2005 when they moved to Ashe County. 

Dan Jarvis said his wife became involved with packing shoeboxes while attending church. She soon roped Dan into the holiday fun. 

"It's a yearlong process of collecting items," Dan Jarvis said. "As far as when is the best time for shopping, well it's any time. When we are out shopping, we will often see something that would be helpful to someone that we haven't thought of. I frequent Lowe's and other hardware stores looking for rulers and bins that have small tool items for sale for the older boys."

End of season sales, when items are frequently marked down, also make a good time for small shopping sprees to help fill their personally set quota of 20 shoeboxes annually, Emi Jarvis said. 

"I can find little cute outfits on sale for as little as $3," she said. 

Every penny has to count, too. 

"Times are tough, and when you spend $20 to $30 for shoeboxes, you would like that to go as far as possible," Dan Jarvis said. 

Greater awareness

After volunteering to hand out shoeboxes in the Ukraine one holiday season, the Jarvises said their shopping habits, as well as their outlook on the project, changed dramatically. 

The couple soon discovered the needs of older children and teens were sometimes overlooked, which led to Dan Jarvis searching for small tools and other items that could serve some practical purpose. School supplies also topped their new list. 

"We were told through one of the distribution centers that a whole class of children was having to share the same pencil," Emi Jarvis said. 

"The teacher would literally have to stop and wait for each student's turn to take notes. They were grateful just to have one pencil."

Their trip to the Ukraine also enlightened the Jarvises as to how much Operation Christmas Child means to the children. 

"That really opened our eyes to their appreciation and of the needs of the children and how they are blessed by these little boxes, which we call gospel opportunity boxes," Dan Jarvis said. "This gave us motivation to get other people involved."

"My whole attitude toward this project totally changed when I saw the response at the other end of the boxes," Emi Jarvis said. 

"At the distribution center, you didn't see one unhappy child. The kids were holding onto their boxes for dear life."