A pair of socks in the bottom of a box of other small, simple gifts.

That was all it took 10-year-old Vanessa Mejia-Hutchison of Honduras to realize that God was listening to her prayers.

That box of gifts came from Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse program that packs boxes of gifts to deliver to disadvantaged children all over the world.

“When you think about these kids, a lot of them, it’s the first gift they get, period,” said Davinia Rizzo, area coordinator for the program, prior to a recent volunteer organizational meeting at Grace Outreach Center in Rio Rancho.

Mejia-Hutchison, now living in Oregon and working as a national speaker for Operation Christmas Child, was there Saturday, Aug. 9, to share the impact receiving the box had on her life.

She said a few weeks before receiving her box, she had had been heavily teased for being poor and not having lunch and “cool” clothes. In particular, she said, her peers were making fun of her socks for being worn out and having holes.

“I remember praying and asking God to send us money for clothes,” she said.

A few weeks later, her church hosted an event where there was to be a surprise for the children. The surprise, it turned out, were boxes from Operation Christmas Child.

“It came with very, very nice things that I had been wanting for a long time,” Mejia-Hutchison said. “At the bottom of that box was a pair of socks, which is what I had been praying for weeks before. It was a confirmation from God that he did listen to my prayers, and it was God’s way to show he loves me and cares for me.

“I couldn’t understand who would send this box without knowing me,” she continued, saying the box gave her the “joy of feeling special and loved.

“I was praying specifically for a pair of socks … I knew God had to speak to them to pack socks.”

She found her way back to Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child in 2020. By then, she was living in the United States, but, along with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Honduras was hit by two hurricanes in three days just before Christmas, and many people lost their homes.

With family still there, and her pastor father’s church serving as a shelter, she remembered her shoe box and called Samaritan’s Purse, asking about her family’s church receiving boxes. 

From that point, she began working as a speaker for the organization, now visiting locations nationwide.

“It’s been 25 years since I received my shoebox, and it still keeps blessing me,” Mejia-Hutchison said. “It gives me joy and hope to do this.”

“It’s not every year we get this full-circle speaker,” Rizzo said.

And while Christmas is still months away, the campaign is starting to get in full swing. Rizzo said that volunteers are starting distribute boxes around the community for donors to pack. Several people, she said, collect items throughout the year and then hold “packing parties” to fill the boxes before shipping them out.

Grace Outreach Center, 2900 Southern Blvd., is the collection point for Rio Rancho, which will be collecting the packed boxes Nov. 13-20 to be shipped all over the world. They have a goal of 18,000 boxes for the collection point this year. A newer feature is QR codes on the label that allows donors to follow the boxes to their location.

But it’s not just a gift-giving operation. The program works with volunteers at the distribution point to train people on sharing the gospel with the children receiving the boxes.

“Most hear about Jesus for the first time when they receive their shoebox,” Mejia-Hutchison said.

They are even reaching some of the most difficult places in the world. One option, Rizzo said, is to back a box online at samaritanspurse.org/buildonline. Items there have been prescreened and are approved for distribution in restricted countries, she said. “That’s a way to make a huge impact.”

She also shared a story from last year about boxes making their way into war-torn Ukraine. She said a whole neighborhood of about 200 people was sheltering in the basement of a church. Power was infrequent, and they were often left in the dark. Samaritan’s Purse delivered boxes there early in the season, and the favorite gift in many of the boxes were flashlights that are charged by shaking. The kids, she said, were so happy just to have light. She called it “God’s perfect gift for them.”

“The boxes are getting out there,” Mejia-Hutchison said. “I am a witness to that.”

Steps for packing a box

  1. Get a standard-size shoebox to pack. Use the label to mark if it’s for a boy or a girl and the age range. Preprinted shoeboxes are available at samaritanspurse.org.
  2. A “wow” item:” Select a quality toy, such as a doll, soccer ball, stuffed animal or clothes and shoes.
  3. Other gifts: Pack full with other fun toys, such as toy cars, jump ropes and yo-yos; hygiene items such as toothbrushes, washcloths, combs and hairbrushes; and school supplies, such as pens, pencils, markers, notebooks, paper, coloring and picture books or solar calculators; or accessories such as sunglasses, socks, jewelry, watches or flashlights with extra batteries.
  4. Drop off at a collection site Nov. 13-20.

Those wanting to do a box but don’t have the time or ability to do the shopping can donate $10 per box by giving online. There is also the option to build a box online.