Lea Hartman, dressed as Suzi Shoebox, and Mesfin Abeva, both… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
Angelica Fagan, 8, has a crystal-clear memory of the shoebox full of gifts she received when she lived at a Philippine orphanage with her two younger brothers.
"She said it was the only Christmas present she had ever received, and she remembered everything that was in it," said Lauren Fagan, who adopted the three siblings 18 months ago.
The Parkville family is filling boxes this year for other needy children around the world, as part of Operation Christmas Child, a 19-year-old international charity that expects to mail its 100 millionth shoebox of gifts overseas this season.
Fagan takes the children, aged 8, 6 and 4, shopping so they can each customize their own boxes.
"Now this is my children's give-back to all those children still at orphanages," she said. "It's a real lesson learned for all of us. They told me what they would want, if they were still there. Angelica picked writing paper, little trinkets and socks. She said she really liked getting new socks."
The family expects to be among about 120 volunteers packing thousands of boxes this month at a Sparks manufacturer's plant. The ultimate goal from two Saturday packing parties is 14,000 boxes that will become part of a massive shipment from Operation Christmas Child.
"Sometimes this is just hope in a box," said Jeffrey Mauler, packing project coordinator. "It shows children that someone they have never met cares about them."
The packing party is a broad effort, but anyone can put together a single box and deliver it to one of several collection centers throughout the area. From there, the donations are shipped to the organization's hub in North Carolina and then forwarded to churches, orphanages and aid organizations in 130 countries around the globe.
Donors can find suggestions for contents and locate a collection center through samaritanspurse.org, the website of Operation Christmas Childs' umbrella organization. Donors can also tailor contents, according to gender and age of the child.
Taylor Technologies, a manufacturer of water-testing kits, has, for the past eight years, lent its Loveton Circle plant to the effort. The company just bought equipment to make its own version of the Frisbee, in a variety of colors and sized to fit the boxes. Many volunteers work year-round to raise funds and gather items for the pre-holiday packing parties. The supply this year includes 26,000 pencils, 225,000 crayons and countless stuffed animals.
"This is a wonderful way to communicate with children around the world and to involve children here in giving," said Lea Hartman, a Mays Chapel grandmother, who often masquerades as Susie Shoebox and urges children to participate in the project. "The spirit of what that one little box can do and how it gets to the kid, who needs it most, is truly wonderful."
Hartman has also volunteered at Operation Christmas Child's hub in Charlotte, N.C., which processed well over 2 million boxes last year.
"This is the easiest way to get involved in a mission," she said. "You don't have to go to Africa or Asia to help a child."
Volunteers from area churches, community groups, businesses and families will form assembly lines and pack during two four-hour shifts at the plant Saturday. They will make sure the contents meet basic daily needs, such as toothpaste and a tooth brush, soap, a comb and hair brush and provide school supplies, like notepads and pencils. But there is always space for fun, like a jump rope, a Frisbee, crayons and a stuffed animal.
"When you look at how much stuff your own children and grandchildren have and realize how many children have never received a gift, you want to help," said Allan Urban of northern Harford County. "I found this organization about 10 years ago, when I was looking to volunteer for a charity. I knew right away that I had put my ladder on the right wall."