Operation Christmas Child

Maui County churches are collecting boxes of presents for children around the world

Grace Bible Church members Crystal Texeira (from left), Allyssia Hahn and Kathy Nakao work to fill and seal boxes Nov. 6 as part of Operation Christmas Child. The project collects boxes of Christmas gifts to send to children overseas. This week kicks off National Collection Week, and locations around the county will be taking donations until Nov. 21. This year, Maui County’s goal is 4,001 boxes, Maui area coordinator Debbie Rodrigues said. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Two of the three bedrooms in Debbie Rodrigues’ Kahului home are packed with donations throughout the year — toys, clothing, toiletries, shoeboxes. The third and smallest room is where Rodrigues sleeps.

As the Maui area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, much of Rodrigues’ living space is dedicated to the annual project that puts together shoeboxes of gifts for children abroad.

“My house looks like Target,” Rodrigues joked.

Now that’s all getting cleared out, at least temporarily. Today kicks off National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child. Locations throughout Maui County — Grace Bible Church in Kahului, Hope Chapel in Kihei, Lahaina Baptist Church, Molokai Baptist Church in Hoolehua and Lanai Baptist Church — will be accepting donation boxes from the community until Nov. 21.

“No box is the same,” Rodrigues said Nov. 6, during Grace Bible Church’s fourth annual shoebox-packing event. “Once this child receives it — and I’ve seen it firsthand — they just cannot believe that some stranger they don’t even know would take the time and the money to send them a gift.”

A wide selection of toys, school supplies and personal hygiene items are donated and purchased throughout the year for Operation Christmas Child. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian international relief organization. Since the project started in 1993, more than 135 million children in 150 countries and territories have received shoebox gifts on Christmas, according to the Samaritan’s Purse website.

Maui residents have been sending gifts through the project for many years, but coordinated efforts to gather boxes didn’t start until Lahaina Baptist Church became the island’s first drop-off location around 2008. Hope Chapel, and then Grace Bible Church followed. In 2008, residents packed 306 boxes. By 2015, the number had ballooned to more than 3,600. This year’s goal is 4,001, “because we can always reach one more child,” Rodrigues said.

Last week at Grace Bible Church, families loaded 307 green-and-red boxes full of toys, socks, toothbrushes, Bible lessons and handwritten notes. Each box is packed depending on the age and gender of the child receiving the gifts. Many kids chose to pack boxes for someone around their age. Rodrigues said what’s special about the project is that it’s “child helping child.”

“I told (my daughters) to think about what you would like (to receive),” Anthea Schmidt said.

Nine-year-old Charlize Schmidt filled her box with a small teddy bear, a jump rope, crayons, a hairbrush and much more.

Debbie Rodrigues, Maui area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, explains the project to members of Grace Bible Church. “I don’t look at shoeboxes like I used to anymore,” she said. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

“What kid doesn’t like a teddy bear?” she said. She added a note for the recipient saying to “always remember that God loves you.”

Nani Ancog helped her 2-year-old son, Eli, pick out a ball, flashcards and Play-Doh for a boy his age.

“It’s just so overwhelming  . . . being able to touch a child’s heart somewhere on the other side of the world,” Ancog said. “It’s nice to give to others who don’t have as much.”

Yard sales and fundraisers throughout the year help bring in many of the items that fill the boxes, Rodrigues said.

Members of the community wanting to participate can pick up a box at the locations or bring their own. Samaritan’s Purse recommends finding a quality toy such as a doll or soccer ball, and surrounding it with other toys, hygiene items and school supplies. People can pack for a boy or girl in age groups 2 to 4, 5 to 9 or 10 to 14. Rodrigues asked that donors place $7 in the box to help pay for shipping. Or, people can donate the $7 online at samaritanspurse.org, and will receive a tracking label to print and place on their boxes.

Drop-off times at Grace Bible Church are 6 to 8 p.m. today through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 21.

Lahaina Baptist Church will be accepting boxes 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today through Sunday, and 7 to 10 a.m. Nov. 21.

Hope Chapel’s times are 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. today and Tuesday, 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday and 9 to 11 a.m. and 12 to 2 p.m. Nov. 21.

Molokai Baptist Church is open for donations 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 21.

Lanai residents can bring boxes to the Lanai Baptist Church for transport to Maui.

At the end of the week, the boxes will be loaded into a 20-foot container and shipped to California. Workers in California will check for liquids, food, fighting toys and other items that cannot be sent out, Rodrigues said. They will refill those boxes or other emptier boxes with appropriate gifts.

“They’ve been sent to so many different places that I couldn’t possibly travel to,” said Jen Klaput, who coordinates the project for Hope Chapel. “It’s a great thing for (the kids) to get out of the ‘gimme gimme’ of Christmas and give back to other kids. They love doing it.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.