The women of the First United Methodist Church in Chester have made it an annual mission project to support Operation Christmas Child, with shoe box gift packages.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to provide God's love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. Together with local churches worldwide, the "Good News of Jesus Christ" is spread via the provision of gifts to children in need.
The first year of operation in 1993, Operation Christmas Child, and Samaritan's Purse sent 28,000 shoe box gifts to children in the Balkans. Every year since then shoe box gifts of toys, hygiene products, school supplies and other nonperishable items have been sent to children around the world at Christmastime.
Patti Nanney, Chester UMW Christmas Child Coordinator, has organized the FUMC women's efforts since they started years ago. Each year the Chester UMW try to expand their efforts, with more gifts to children than before. The annual ritual has become popular with members.
UMW President Vicky Beers said the group itself is pretty small, just 21 members and only eight to 10 women who come to the monthly meetings (7 p.m. third Tuesday of each month).
"For such a small group, we managed to maintain contributions to several important mission efforts," Beers said. "Operation Christmas Child is a favorite of many of our members and we make sure to get our shoe boxes sent on time each year so that children have gifts at Christmas."
Since 1993, more than 178 million children in more than 150 countries have been the recipients of Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts. The project delivers not only the joy of what, for many kids, is their first Christmas gift ever, but it further gives them a tangible expression of God's love.
This year was challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the group to stop meeting in person since last February.
Nanney said the group usually puts the shoe boxes together in October. "Each member brings gift items to the meetings and we create the boxes, wrap them and prepare to deliver them." A total of 25 shoe boxes were completed and delivered.
Nanney and her husband, Bill, take the boxes to the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center in Missouri.
It costs about $9 per box to be shipped to the children, and for several years, the United Methodist Men have teamed up with the UMW to pay for the postage to ship the gifts to the children.