COLORADO SPRINGS — Operation Christmas Child, one of the largest gift distribution events this year, has kicked off across Colorado.
For over 10 years, Pikes Peak Christian Church has collected and delivered hundreds of shoeboxes for children in need. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the tradition will continue.
"COVID has definitely had an impact on Operation Christmas Child because we don't have as many people coming back to pick up their boxes and deliver them as before. With the economic toll on people, I'm sure there are not that many resources available," said Darrin Ronde, pastor of Pikes Peak Christian Church.
Ronde says the church doesn't expect too many shoeboxes this year with the pandemic still going on, but they wanted to continue with the gift distribution because of the need.
"It's important for the kids because it is for most of them the only gift they'll get through the year," said Ronde.
Operation Christmas Child works by getting an average-size cardboard or plastic shoebox. If you want to wrap it, cover the box and lid separately. Then you have to decide whether to pack a box for a girl or a boy, and the age category: 2–4, 5–9, or 10–14. The shoebox can be packed with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. After it's packed, the shoebox can be dropped off at the Pikes Peak Christian Church or during National Collection Week, Nov. 16–23. There is also an online option.
"You can go to the Operation Christmas Child website and basically purchase a box. You can purchase what it costs to put a box together. They'll put it together and then ship it off and if you do it at the church, the ones we're collecting, it could cost $20-$40 to put a box together," said Ronde.
Usually, the church sets a goal of 1,000 shoeboxes but with fewer people in the church to participate and the economic toll the pandemic has caused, they're now hoping for at least 500.
"COVID had an impact on how many we could do and we knew that because our attendance is about 50 percent of what it normally is," said Ronde. "Because of the economic issues people are dealing with, we knew that we were probably not going to hit our normal goal, but if we can hit a few hundred or 500 boxes then that would be incredible."
Three years ago, Ronde got the opportunity to visit Ecuador and watch the children open their shoeboxes.
"We visited three places where we gave these boxes to kids and it was such a joy to see these children, such sweet kids and humble. One of the things that touched me was one of the children opened up her box and held onto the picture of the family that put that box together. It was precious to her because a family that she didn't know cared enough to give her a box," said Ronde.
According to the Operation Christmas Child's website, the virus has not changed what they can and can't pack into the shoeboxes. Ronde says the program hasn't given them any special precautions to take when packing them. He says the risk of germs is low since the children aren't getting the shoeboxes anytime soon.
Right now, the church has collected almost 50 shoeboxes and will be collecting until Nov. 22. For those interested in participating in the program, visit Pikes Peaks Christian Church website.