Charleston Southern University students, faculty and staff set a 10,000-gift goal for its Operation Christmas Child initiative this year. And, in their 10th year of packing boxes, the campus exceeded that goal with an astounding 10,924.
Laurie Diel, executive assistant for the VP of Student Life, is the coordinator for the OCC project at CSU. “I think it’s awesome that we exceeded our goal, but what the Lord has shown me is that it’s not so much the number. The Lord is obviously using CSU for this moment in time,” she said. “I think when students choose CSU as their home for four years, He’s giving them a front row seat on the journey. It’s a time where they can choose to participate and impact the Kingdom of God.”
This is the third year in a row of beating their own national record for the most shoeboxes packed by any college or university. In 2019, CSU packed 5,248 boxes. Last year, even in the height of the pandemic, the campus family packed 7,100.
The red and green shoebox-sized gifts—packed with items such as stuffed animals, dolls, toy cars, soap, toothbrushes, clothing, play doh, and school supplies—are delivered to children ages 2 to 14 in countries on nearly every continent. In addition to bringing a bit of Christmas spirit and pure joy to the lives of children clear across the globe, each shoebox introduces the Gospel.
“It’s a pretty incredible feeling that our students will understand what it’s like to not always receive, but to serve and give,” said Diel. “We see our whole campus come together in one main cause—in spreading the Gospel through a shoebox.”
Supplies are donated year-round by students, employees, alumni, supporters, and organizations. Thousands of stuffed animals piled high throughout campus thanks to a PetSmart grant were nearly matched by the T-shirts provided by the Charleston Bridge Run.
Students and departments held competitions for the most packed boxes. The library staff packed a shocking 116 boxes per person. Several students individually packed into the hundreds.
Freshman DJ Brummett, a criminal justice major at CSU, packed 402 boxes.
“My initial drive was whenever I learned about the opportunity to go overseas and deliver the boxes and help out the kids,” said Brummett. He enlisted the help of family and church friends from his hometown of Myrtle Beach. “We brought back the supplies from Myrtle Beach to Littlejohn Parlor. I had about a dozen friends, and we had an assembly line in there just packing and stacking boxes.”
Prior to his time at CSU, Brummett packed a couple boxes here and there in school and church events, but never anything at this level. Growing up in a self-described typical middle-class family, he said that the mission of blessing children with a gift inspired him to do more.
“For a kid who isn’t as blessed as I am to receive a gift that I helped pack is a blessing,” he said. “My first box that I packed this year, I wrote a little note and a picture of myself. That box is extra special.”
Leading up to this year’s Packing Party held on Thursday night, Diel shared story after story of how this shoebox ministry has touched—and, in some cases, transformed—the lives of so many on campus. Students who chose to attend CSU because of their connection to packing OCC boxes at their church. People from other universities or organizations who heard about those red and green shoeboxes and wanted to volunteer.
“One of my favorite stories is a student that got involved with Operation Christmas Child two years ago because he had some disciplinary sanctions and had to do community service.” After the student’s many hours of service in packing boxes, he told Diel how much he loved the process. “He came for three more weeks to volunteer. Now he’s one of my main guys. We call him Mr. OCC. He stops by my office every single day and asks how he can help. It’s a story of redemption.”
Diel was able to deliver boxes to Trinidad and Tobago in February 2020, before the pandemic took the world by storm. The experience was an additional catalyst for her passion. “When these children don’t even expect a gift, and they are surprised with a gift from Americans. The boxes are passed out, and they count down ‘3-2-1,’ and they open it together. Just seeing the sheer excitement over pens…or soap because it smells so fragrant, or a picture of a family that packed the shoebox…how that impacts somebody. Those kinds of things change you,” she said.
As for the future, Diel thinks it’s possible to continue to do more each year. “I think 10,000 is a pretty huge goal, but I don’t think it’s difficult for us to do. We all play a role on campus. I want 10,000 to be the norm, but if the Lord calls us to a bigger number, we’ll rise to that just like we have the last three years,” she said.
To learn more or to make a monetary donation for next year’s shoebox goal, visit charlestonsouthern.edu/OCC.
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