Schuyler residents for the fourth straight year will have the opportunity to make Christmas special for children encompassing the globe.

Operation Christmas Child has started and those wishing to contribute to the cause are advised to obtain their shoeboxes at First Presbyterian Church, Pinnacle Bank or Homestead Bank in town. Those shoeboxes will be filled with toys and gifts to be sent to children less fortunate. From Nov. 18-25, people can return the shoeboxes to the drop-off location at First Presbyterian Church.

Kris Wilch, leader of the drop-off center, said that the yearly project is a good way to provide gifts and a special experience for children who may not have the needs to receive Christmas presents on a yearly basis.

“It’s an opportunity to share God’s love in a tangible way with children who maybe have never heard the Gospel,” Wilch said.

During the past three years, Wilch has seen the project grow, with more people and more groups getting involved in Schuyler, including other churches and businesses seeking to do some good during the holiday season.

“It’s been very well received,” Wilch said. “Businesses have donated (and) the school district has had groups involved. A lady came last year and said, ‘I’ve heard about this and I would like to fill a shoebox.’ I feel it’s been really well received.”

Last year, people and groups in Schuyler helped fill 281 shoeboxes with goodies for children ages 2-14. Each shoebox contains instructions on how to use them and what gifts to put in. For instance, one already filled box contains a soccer ball, pump, crayons and a toothbrush in addition to other items. This year, Wilch said she wants to see 300 boxes filled in Schuyler, and First Presbyterian is adding another goal for parishioners to fill 150 boxes to celebrate the church’s 150th birthday.

“We figured one box for each year we were a church,” Wilch said. “I don’t know if we’ll make it, but we’ll see.”

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Wilch receives plenty of help from volunteers who assist with collecting and filling the boxes. Marie Bruegger has helped with the project over the last three years and said that she joins in mainly to help kids all over the world.

“It’s mainly for the kids,” Bruegger said. “I taught Sunday school for over 20 years and I love working with kids (and) helping kids. It just gives you a good feeling helping them, getting them a gift that maybe they have never gotten before and getting some things that they really need.”

Bruegger also assists in a packing party that brings together Sunday school children and adult volunteers to help pack some shoeboxes.

“The Sunday school kids get involved and it teaches them about giving; not always receiving, but giving,” Bruegger said. “The adults get involved too and they see what’s all going on and then they want to get their own shoebox and think, ‘I’m going to do this, too.’”

Wilch has found plenty of fulfillment within her role at Operation Christmas Child. For starters, she has seen the project expand throughout Schuyler during the last three years and is hopeful that this holiday season will once again be successful.

She has also been able to share in some incredible experiences, including going to a processing center in Denver and hearing the experiences of children who have received gifts as a result of Operation Christmas Child. For her, it’s the ability to provide hope to children who may have lost some of it that makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

“Just the fact that they receive the box, that they do hear the message of God’s love in that box that is promoted to them,” Wilch said. “What we find is that it tends to grow. The speakers tell us is what influence it has not only on them but on their friends and their family. We had a float this year (for Labor Day) that says it all: ‘One shoebox touches one community for an eternity.’”

Zach Roth is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.