Cadence Bailar hasn’t gotten a birthday gift for two years.
But the 11-year-old Wahoo girl is fine with that — because she’s been able to help children who might not otherwise get a Christmas gift.
Instead of getting birthday gifts, the area girl simply asks for funds to buy items that can be put in shoe boxes and sent to children somewhere else in the world.
This year, Cadence brought 24 gift-filled shoe boxes to First Lutheran Church in Fremont for the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child project.
A total of 1,442 boxes were donated, said Charlotte Young, the drop-off center coordinator.
Monday was the last day area residents could bring in their boxes.
Each year, area residents fill boxes with a host of items from school and hygiene supplies to toys and clothing for children ages 2 to 14.
On Monday morning, Young was busy greeting box bringers and helping load the green- and red-colored boxes into larger brown cartons.
Jodi Nemec of Grace Presbyterian Church in Fremont quickly unloaded 135 shoe boxes from the back of her vehicle onto a cart.
Nemec estimates she’s packed OCC boxes for 10 years and buys items throughout the year when they’re on sale.
“Now, I teach a middle and high school girls Sunday school class and I thought this would be a great mission project for them to learn how to share God’s love with those who are less fortunate,” Nemec said. “I love the shopping and the bonding of the girls when we do our packing party — and the creativity that goes into each box.”
Cadence brought her boxes in last week.
“We’ve done it (packed boxes) for four years through our church and the last two years it was really on Cadence’s heart,” said her mom, Jen Foster. “So last year, she packed 17 boxes.”
For her birthday, which is in April, Cadence asks for money to buy gifts she can put into the shoe boxes. She also earns money throughout the year by doing extra chores at home.
Cadence’s friends don’t go to her church, but they came for cake and ice cream on her birthday. Two of the four friends, who attended her party in April, then returned to participate in a recent box-packing party, her mom said.
Now they want to pack their own boxes, too.
Young said the boxes are important, because they bring hope to children and give encouragement to parents who aren’t able to provide gifts for their children.
With each Christmas box comes a little booklet about Jesus. The children also are invited to take a 12-week discipleship course with another book. All materials are printed in the children’s own language.
When the children graduate from the course, they get a New Testament Bible and a certificate.
“This may be the only graduation ceremony they ever have,” Young said.
Entire villages have been impacted by the boxes. Churches have been built. Families have been changed. When parents see how learning about Jesus has changed their children, they also want to accept Christ and the families are better for it, Young said.
About 16 shoeboxes go into each brown packing carton. That’s why it’s important for people to use a standard size shoebox. Larger boxes are accepted, but if a village needs 48 shoe boxes and one carton only contains 13, then an additional carton must be taken along by the people making the delivery.
Donors also are asked to provide $9 per box to help cover shipping and handling costs, but Young said people at the drop-off center never open the boxes or ask if money is enclosed.
Boxes are checked at a processing center.
Young also has a box of filler items — toys and other supplies — that people have brought which is sent on to the processing center as well.
That way, if someone at the processing center finds a shoe box with something which can’t be shipped, such as liquids, toothpaste or candy, the volunteer can replace those things with something from the filler items box.
Donors brought in 2,051 shoe boxes last year, but Young is still pleased with all the boxes donated this year.
“It was a great last day,” she said. “We’re happy with having 1,442 children who are going to be impacted by these shoe boxes and we thank the community for their heart for this project.”
Foster was pretty happy, too.
“I love Operation Christmas child,” Foster said. “I love what it stands for — bringing other people to Christ. I love that it has resonated with my daughter — that she’d go out of her way to make extra money to help pack boxes.”
Next year, Cadence hopes to pack 50 boxes.