by Kellen Short
The program, a part of Boone-based Christian evangelistic organization Samaritan's Purse, has provided shoeboxes filled with gifts and necessities to needy children around the world since 1993.
OCC delivered its 100 millionth shoebox in 2012 and expects to send more than 10 million this year.
Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham and others gathered Monday in Boone to celebrate the program's success and thank the volunteers who make it happen.
While 100 million sounds like plenty of children to reach, Graham said there are many more who still need the comfort and encouragement a shoebox can bring.
"We never have enough boxes, and every box is a chance to touch a child," Graham said.
Graham said some have questioned whether the Philippines is an appropriate place to target this year, given that so many families still lack basic necessities such as shelter, food and water after the Nov. 8 typhoon that devastated the island country.
Samaritan's Purse continues to provide shelter, sustenance and medical care there, but Graham said the organization also must support the youngest victims, who have often lost family members and all their belongings.
"The kids have lost everything," he said.
Alex Nsengimana, a native of Rwanda who now works for Operation Christmas Child, spoke about the impact it made when he received a shoebox gift as a young child.
Nsengimana said he was raised by his grandmother, having never known his father and having lost his mother to AIDS. After the genocide of the 1994 took his grandmother and uncle, Nsengimana was taken to a crowded orphanage.
"At this time I was asking myself why I was alive," he said.
Nsengimana said he was ecstatic to line up outside one day to receive a shoebox. In his box was a comb he kept for three years and a candy cane, which he had never tasted. He mistakenly took his first bite with the plastic wrap still on, he said with a laugh.
He eventually joined the African Children's Choir, moved to the United States, attended school and joined Operation Christmas Child.
Last year, he had the opportunity to deliver gifts at the same orphanage where he once lived.
"That was one of my favorite moments," he said.
The event recognized the efforts of numerous volunteers, who went right back to work sorting boxes after the celebration.
Those volunteers included Sheila Lundy, who came to Boone with a Bible study group from First Christian Church of Johnson City, Tenn.
Lundy said she had volunteered once before and was impressed with the organization.
"It's not Christmas until you come to Operation Christmas Child," she said.