Around the holiday season, many organizations, charities, and families donate shoe boxes filled with gifts to Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization, with a special project in mind – Operation Christmas Child.
Sarah McCullen, a Nachitoches, Louisiana native and University of Mississippi sophomore, wanted to make a difference by having her sorority and other students donate as many boxes to young children around the globe as possible.
Operation Christmas Child began in Boone, North Carolina and is a non-denominational evangelical Christian International Relief Program started by American evangelical Christian Billy Graham. Every year, they promote packing shoe boxes as Christmas gifts for different age groups of children who are less fortunate and lack everyday necessities.
Sarah McCullen, a UM journalism major, has packed shoe boxes since she was a little girl throughout elementary, middle and high school.
“As a sophomore in college, I got reconnected into Operation Christmas Child because my grandparents were involved,” McCullen said. “I knew when I heard them talk about it that I wanted to get Ole Miss involved too.”
People who want to donate need an empty shoe box. They choose whether the gift is for a girl or boy and pick an age group to donate.
To pack each box, volunteers pick a “wow item” like a stuffed animal or sports ball, other fun toys, hygiene items and school supplies for their gift boxes. Forbidden items include liquids, food, chocolate, items related to war or live animals. After completing the gift, volunteers can write a note and include a picture of themselves if they choose.
There is a $7 shipping donation that allows the sender to track their box and make sure it was delivered safely after dropping it off at the nearest drop-off location in their city.
The organization’s website also asks that senders pray for their child because one of the many purposes for sending the gifts is to share the Gospel with children around the world.
The third week in November is National Collection Week when children receive their designated gift from Samaritan’s Purse.
McCullen convinced members of her sorority, Kappa Delta, to donate items for shoe boxes and serve as an example to other sororities, fraternities, and students like sophomore Olivia Miller, a Scottsdale, Arizona native, and junior McKenzie Darnell from Tupelo, who started their own campaign for donations.
“As long as I can remember, my mom has taken me and my family to Target, and we would fill a shoe box with toys for OCC,” said Miller. “I loved stuffing each box. We would decide what to put in them based on the age group chosen. I would always throw in a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, or even socks. The goal was to provide for their needs, but also throw something fun in there too.”
Miller and Darnell reached out to McCullen after seeing the Ole Miss Shoe Box Project on Instagram to ask if they could pack boxes at Tri Delta. Their sorority donated around 50 boxes before the Nov. 15 deadline.
“I have always done the Shoe Box Project at my church at home,” Darnell said, “and I knew I wanted to do it again, but bigger, through our Tri Delta Chapter.”
Darnell contacted Tri Delta President Stennet Smith about the chapter coming together for a great cause. She met with McCullen, who gave Stennet shoe boxes to fill. The drop-off was at First Baptist Church in Oxford, where Darnell met McCullen’s mom.
“She told me how she got to go to Africa and see the boxes being delivered and watch the kids open them,” Darnell said. “Hearing her tell how amazing it was and the joy that came from that shoe box of a couple of toys made it all worth it, because knowing we made it possible for those kids to have Christmas was a great feeling.”
Overall, the University of Mississippi collected more than 1,100 boxes because of McCullen’s inspiration. She motivated multiple students and Oxford citizens to donate shoe boxes.