by MICHELLE TREMBLAY

If you are looking to “give back” this holiday season, there is an organization just for you. Samaritan’s Purse, a national Christian organization, is making it their mission to not only bring joy to impoverished children all around the world, but to also enrich their lives by spreading the word of God. With the help of donations, this group sends shoeboxes to needy children filled with such items as toys, clothing, toiletries, and school supplies. Also, in an effort to bring faith into these children’s lives, every shoebox includes an educational book on Christianity that introduces the child to a discipleship program. This project is called “Operation Christmas Child,” and now, through its San Diego chapter, you too can give the gifts of joy, hope and faith to an impoverished child.

Esperanza (Itzy) Haumschilt, the lead for San Diego’s Operation Christmas Child and a teacher at Valley Elementary School, explained how she became involved with the charity: “I have been packing (shoeboxes) for many years with my own children and with my students. I always love the joy of giving to a child and my best experience was when I went to the processing center in Orange County to witness the love of God through thousands and thousands of boxes,” said Itzy. “Every single one was unique and special. Tears came to my eyes just to imagine little girls and boys in some of the most difficult situations. I became a year round volunteer and then the area coordinator for the best team in the world – North San Diego.”

Like Itzy, anyone can become involved with the project either through volunteering or by donating a shoebox (along with $7 to cover shipping costs). “You can be a part of this amazing and simple project,” said Itzy. “It feels good to give. It’s truly a blessing to know that darkness turns into light for all these children with a simple shoebox full of hope and love. Get together with your family, church, or school and be a part of the most rewarding experience you will ever have.”

With your donation, you will have the option to track your shoebox to its destination, and some lucky donors may even get to know the child to whom the box was delivered. “You may enclose a note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family and if you enclose your name and address the child may even write back,” explained Itzy.

National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is November 12 -19, 2012, and the “drop off” centers are located throughout the county. For more information on getting involved or to find your nearest drop off center, please visit: www.samaritanspurse.org.