Every year, millions of children across the globe receive a shoebox from the Operation Christmas Child program. This year, UTK Collegiate 4-H and FFA contributed to OCC by packing 1,350 boxes full of toys, clothes and toiletries.
Operation Christmas Child (OCC), which began in 1993, is a program through Samaritan's Purse that collects gift-filled shoeboxes and sends them to children in more than 150 countries and territories. The shoeboxes are the first gifts some children ever receive.
In 2013, UTK Collegiate 4-H and FFA advisor, Justin Crowe, traveled to Lima, Peru, to learn about the OCC program. After watching the children first-hand receive their shoe boxes, he was inspired to volunteer with and promote the OCC program.
4-H and FFA were combined at UTK in 2017 to create a service and social club. The purpose of merging was to attract more members and reach more students with a passion to serve their community. The club currently has about 70 members.
“The results of the combination have been great,” Crowe said. “The merger has led to increased participation from both groups and additional opportunities for our club members.”
One of these opportunities has been OCC. Since merging, OCC has been 4-H and FFA’s biggest service project. The organization works year round preparing for the project and finding bargains on toys and other items. Each year, they have created and given away around 1,000 shoeboxes — and this year they exceeded that goal.
Crowe explained that there are many beneficial sides to the project.
“This is a wonderful project to promote global citizenship,” Crowe said. “I love finding deals in stores and shopping for bargains for the boxes.”
It is not easy packing 1,350 shoeboxes. It takes months of preparation and dedication, as well as a lot of volunteers. On Nov. 14, 4-H and FFA hosted an OCC packing party on the agriculture campus. Over 100 volunteers consisting of 4-H and FFA members, students, members of other UT clubs and groups, Knoxville community members and staff donated items and helped pack boxes.
Chloe Ford, who serves as Service Chair for Collegiate 4-H and FFA, was one of the main organizers for the event. In order to make the packing party a success, she organized materials and items to put in boxes, advertised the party, recruited volunteers and built and packed boxes.
“I love seeing the Knoxville and UT community come together over service,” Ford said. “And the fact that we will never meet these kids but can still make an impact in their lives is so encouraging.”