Cedar Falls - Mugs Barnes loves to garage sale. Every weekend she hits the road in search of Beanie Babies, toys and other trinkets. But she's not shopping for herself or her own children. She's shopping for children less fortunate.
Barnes shops for items to fill shoeboxes that serve as Christmas gifts for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan's Purse International relief organization sponsored by the Franklin Graham ministry in North Carolina.
Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Operation Christmas Child is its shoebox ministry project.
"There is something heart-warming to me to fill a shoebox and hand-make items for a child," Barnes said.
Barnes learned about OCC after traveling on a mission trip with her husband, Bob, in spring 2010. She has since had the opportunity to visit Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C., and the OCC warehouse. There she heard stories told by a tour guide about the children who received the boxes.
"After hearing many stories that touched my heart, I came home determined to fill 60 shoeboxes," Barnes said. "I had discovered my passion and filled 150 shoeboxes that year."
As her passion grew, she transformed a corner of her home basement into a shoebox packer's paradise, complete with organized bins that house hundreds of toys, school supplies, hygiene items, hard candy, T-shirts, jewelry kits and many other items.
According to Barnes, packing up a shoebox gift is easy. All that is needed is an empty shoebox or a small plastic container - OCC will provide them if needed.
Determine who the box will go to, a boy or a girl, and in what age range: 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14. Then fill out the label and fill the box with a variety of appropriate gifts.
"I mostly pack toys in my boxes, but I also like to include some personal items such as bar soap, a wash cloth, tooth brush and paste, a comb and band aids," Barnes said.
A donation of $7 is required for each shoebox to help cover shipping and other project costs. After placing a rubber band around each closed shoebox it is ready to drop off to the designated Cedar Valley Collection Center during collection week, Nov. 14-21.
"I have loved getting involved with this ministry," Barnes said. "I do something for it every single night. I make jewelry, cards and drawstring bags out of scraps of fabric."
"The impact of this simple shoebox gift and the love that it provides is amazing," she said. "For most of these children, this is the only gift that they have ever received."
Barnes now serves as a church relations team member for OCC and currently spends every Thursday visiting area churches in hopes of getting them involved.
St. John Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls has been involved with OCC since 2004.
"It is definitely a worthwhile mission project that all age groups can participate in," said Jenny Hemesath, executive assistant at St. John Lutheran Church. "Last year our church packed 700 shoeboxes as a congregation."
"In the fall we collect items for about four weeks and then we host a packing party on a Sunday afternoon," she said. "Volunteers pack boxes, make cards and the youth write notes. Last year it was our goal to include at least one stuffed animal and one toy in each box."
"Throughout the entire year I have people bringing items to me that they have collected or made for this project," Hemesath said. "It's definitely on their hearts and minds all year long."
In 2010, 8.2 million shoeboxes were filled internationally from 11 countries, 5.5 million from the United States and 10,740 from the Cedar Valley.
For more information on how to get involved in Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box Ministry, contact Barnes at 415-6847 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here.