Briel Waldrop has been packing shoebox gift packages during the holiday season for children around the world since she could walk.
Operation Christmas Child, a seasonal project run by Samaritan’s Purse, collects and distributes shoeboxes filled with small gifts to children in need. This year, National Collection Week is Nov. 16 to 23.
The collection center in Gainesville is at Northwest Baptist Church, 5514 NW 23rd Ave., and there are other drop-off locations in Florida. It is the second year Northwest Baptist has participated in the project. Relay centers in Lake Butler, Palatka and Keystone Heights will bring shoeboxes to the church to be loaded onto trucks for distribution. Within the next 4 to 6 weeks, the boxes will start trickling into other countries.
“The best part for me is the energy around here because you just get so excited, and you start thinking about everybody who’s going to receive these gifts,” Briel, 17, said. “What’s going to happen when they open them, what’s going to happen in their lives after they receive them?”
She said she does it for the feeling.
“You feel happy, you’re giddy, you’re packing the boxes,” she said. “No one’s wearing a frown, everybody’s smiling, everybody’s upbeat and excited about it, and when you have to say goodbye to the boxes and wave bye when the trucks go off, I mean, you feel so happy.”
She said seeing the videos of the children receiving their gifts makes her want to cry.
As a kid, she started off by putting a few pencils in the boxes, and as she got older, it turned into packing the boxes, creating her own shoeboxes and moving the cartons onto the truck.
“Now I get to hold the Sharpie,” she said, referring to the marker that she uses to write on the boxes and keep a tally of the total number of shoeboxes collected.
She said some children’s favorite gifts are a stuffed animal they can hold at night. For others, it’s the box itself.
“If you use a plastic box they can carry water, they can carry food in (the box) for their families,” she said.
She said her favorite thing to put in the box is a toothbrush and toothpaste, because she knows she wouldn’t be able to live without those items.
Briel’s father, Billy Waldrop, is the area coordinator for the Santa Fe River area team. It is his first year as area coordinator, and he has been a full-time volunteer since 2007. He said the majority of the boxes made in Florida go to India and Ghana, while other states’ boxes are sent to other countries.
He said the hygiene items are very important, but so are the toys.
“A lot of these kids have never received a gift,” Waldrop said. “This is the only one they get a year.”
One time, a girl in a Russian orphanage in the Ukraine received a one-subject notebook, wrote in it up to five times and erased it just to be able to reuse it over and over, he said.
The goal for this year is to surpass last year’s total of 16,000 shoeboxes and collect 16,900, Waldrop said.
“It’s just about getting that one simple gift to a specific child over there that’s never received a gift before,” he said. “That’s what it’s really about.”
Jessica Newsom brought her two children into Northwest Baptist Church on Wednesday to drop off a wrapped shoebox filled with gifts such as a toy car, baseball cards, crayons and a coloring book.
“I decided to do it for my children,” she said. “I think after having children your heart goes out to other children around the world, and I think it’s a good lesson for him (her 3-year-old son) to be able to connect with somebody else in the world that’s not as fortunate as he is and blessed,” she said.