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Franklin Graham visits O.C. volunteers packing 1 million gift

Time:2016-12-02 14:59Shoes websites Click:

Shoe boxes Graham Program volunteers

IRVINE As holiday music boomed from overhead speakers, more than 200 volunteers poured into a warehouse Wednesday to prepare as many as 1 million gift-filled shoe boxes for children overseas.

The Operation Christmas Child volunteers were split into several dozen groups that took turns opening the green and red shoe boxes, inspecting the contents to make sure they were free of such prohibited items as seeds, money or vitamins, and then taping them shut.

Though she has prepared boxes for years, La Habra resident Jill Stanton came to the processing center for the first time to see how the boxes were shipped. She said it’s important for prayers to be sent with the shoe boxes.

“The prayers are always for the future,” she said. “We have no idea what these kids are going through.”

The Operation Christmas Child program aims to send gifts – dolls, stuffed animals and hygiene products – to children aged 2 to 14. Personal notes and a photo of the family or individual who donated the box are often included.

Created in 1993, the group has sent more than 135 million shoe boxes to more than 150 countries and territories, organizers said. The program is part of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization run by Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham.

Graham appeared at the processing center to talk about the program’s long-term goal of teaching children about Christianity and the Bible. As he thanked volunteers for their efforts, several in the crowd pulled out their cellphones to capture photos and videos of the evangelist.

“I want to raise up an army of little Billy Grahams,” he said. “Children who know how to share their faith.”

Graham was joined onstage by volunteer and Harvest Crusade founder Greg Laurie, who led the volunteers in prayer.

Anabel Rosario, 29, received one of those boxes more than two decades ago as a child in the Dominican Republic. Now a Seattle resident, Rosario toured the center and shared her story with volunteers.

Her box had a coloring book, crayons, family photo and a hand-written personal note, she recalled.

“It was something very special and amazing,” she said.

Rosario returned to the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago and posted to Instagram a photo of the note she received as a child.

“I hope you have fun with your gifts,” the note read. “God bless you.”

Retiree and Orange resident Ben Betzer came to lend a hand. He has volunteered with Operation Christmas Child for about a decade.

“It shows God’s love in a tangible way,” he said.

“We’re still showing that we love that kid enough that we will take the time to pack that box,” he said. “When you see the smile that’s generated on the kid’s face, that’s what makes it special.”

His favorite item to include is a soccer ball.

“As long as you put a pump in there,” he said, “that just ignites the whole village. It’s just an amazing gift to have.”

Organizers hope about 12 million shoe boxes will be sent as part of this year’s national campaign.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7844 or snewell@scng.com

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