DOLLAR BAY - During the military conflict in the Balkans in the early 1990s, an effort began to send various items to children in the war-torn region, and what has become Operation Christmas Child has grown significantly since then, including in the Keweenaw, according to Kristi Kossak.
"It started in England during the Bosnian war," said Kossak, who is Operation Christmas Child relay center coordinator at Bethany Baptist Church in Dollar Bay.
Kossak said Operation Christmas Child involves packing various items into boxes about the size of a shoe box. The boxes are for children aged 2 to 14, and are packed age appropriately. Items include toiletries, toys and even personal letters to the children. The packages are then sent to orphanages, war zones and to poor countries.
Courtesy of Kristi Kossak
From left, David Kossak, Tyler Mace and Gary Fenweaver pack up some shoebox-sized gift boxes for Operation Christmas Child, which sends gifts around the world to children in war-torn regions, poor communities and orphanages.
"They go around the world," she said.
After the organization Samaritan's Purse and Franklin Graham, its board chairman, president and CEO, got involved in 1993, Kossak said the program expanded. Graham is the son of evangelist Billy Graham.
"Last year they hit the 100 millionth box mark," she said.
The Relay Center at Bethany Baptist is a central location for the program locally, Kossak said.
"We're one of many centers in the Upper Peninsula that pick up boxes," she said.
After the boxes are brought to Bethany Baptist, Kossak said they are packaged and taken to Manistique, then to Minneapolis from where they're shipped around the world.
Kossak said she's been involved with the local Operation Christmas Child since 2009, and it's expanded here, also.
"It's grown a lot, actually," she said.
Some of that growth is due to the fact she and others at Bethany Baptist have expanded their outreach efforts to local churches and groups to explain what Operation Christmas Child is about.
There are 17 local churches involved with Operation Christmas Child, Kossak said. Some organizations, such as a Girl Scout troop, and individuals also help out.
One of the churches involved with Operation Christmas Child is SS. Peter & Paul Lutheran in Houghton, church member Denise Coates said this is the third year the church has been involved, but her first year volunteering to pack boxes.
Coates said the first year the congregation was involved with Operation Christmas Child, it didn't go well.
"It was just an experiment to see what would happen," she said.
Now, Coates said there are about 30 members of the congregation working on boxing up items for the program.
In early September, Coates said a box was put in the church sanctuary for items to be packed, and church members were very responsive.
"It worked out really well," she said.
This year, Coates said SS. Peter & Paul filled 56 boxes with items, which is an increase over the 29 boxes packed last year.
"Everybody says we (have) to double it again next year," she said.
Coates said the reason for the increase in the number of boxes filled is because church members are more aware of the program than in past years.
Coates said besides packing items in actual shoeboxes, plastic boxes about the size of a shoebox are being used.
"The families can use those," she said. "They can carry food or water in them."
The members of Ss. Peter & Paul involved with packing boxes are enjoying the process, Coates said.
"Everybody that worked on it said it was great fun," she said.
Besides the items put into the boxes, Coates said religious information is also put in.
"The children are invited to a bible class," she said. "It's totally their choice. They get the boxes anyhow."
Some people are concerned about that aspect of the program, however. Those concerns can be seen at http://huff.to/1bm0VTn. Information about that issue from Samaritan's Purse can be seen at http://bit.ly/1bvXc5y.
Kossak said each box of gift items also includes a study book with 12 weeks of Bible lessons offered at the church where the box is sent.
"It is an important part of the ministry though and one of the goals in getting the shoe boxes to the children is so that they can hear the messages given with the Bible lessons," she said. "I do know from some testimonies from children and the missionaries the children are overjoyed to come and listen to the lessons."
Kossak said volunteers are still needed to pack the individual boxes for shipping.
"We are looking for volunteers to do anything," she said.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child contact Kristi Kossak at 810-656-8069, or Tyler Mace at 482-9650.