Kuemper Catholic Grade School students in grades K-5 put together Christmas shoe boxes, full of items ranging from toys to toiletries for Operation Christmas Child. The students provided more than 300 shoebox gifts this year that will benefit children overseas. Fourth-grade students from a class taught by Julie Willenborg hold decorated boxes.
Kuemper Catholic Grade School students in grades K-5 put together Christmas shoe boxes, full of items ranging from toys to toiletries for Operation Christmas Child. The students provided more than 300 shoebox gifts this year that will benefit children overseas. Fourth-grade students from a class taught by Julie Willenborg hold decorated boxes.
December 23, 2013



A toothbrush and toothpaste. A Barbie doll and a stuffed Panda bear. Colored pencils. Barettes. Juicy Fruit gum. A Gospel message.

Every year, millions of poor, unprivileged children, for whom Christmas is a mere dream, receive a colored box, stuffed to the brim with such a variety of items. For the sixth year in a row, Kuemper Catholic elementary students are contributing to this global effort.

The 454 kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Polly Eason's Spanish classes organized and donated 314 boxes this year for Operation Christmas Child. That is more than double the number provided by Kuemper students when Eason first introduced the mission project to the school six years ago.

"I've seen a change in the kids over the years, especially those who started younger," said Eason. "I see their compassion and understanding. They've shown a real maturity over the course of time."

Started 20 years ago by Franklin Graham, son of world-famous evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, OCC has given Christmas presents to more than 77 million boys and girls in more than 130 countries. Last year, it celebrated delivery of its 100 millionth box. Organizers hope to deliver another 6 million-plus boxes this year alone.

In Carroll, Eason's elementary students aid this effort by shopping and filling individual boxes.

"I like helping others across the world and bringing a little joy in their life," said fourth-grade student Kailee Sturm, adding that people want to be together and happy at Christmas.

Fourth-grader Jemma Hoffman said she enjoyed shopping to fill boxes and likes to imagine the smiles on children's faces around the world.

"It would make me so happy to see their faces light up on Christmas day," she said with a smile of her own.

Amy Schulte, also in fourth grade, worked with other members of her family to complete eight boxes. They bought too many items for their original shoeboxes, Schulte explained, so they doubled the number.

Eason said many of her students completed more than one box. Other students joined efforts wit friends to put together their box.

"They were all involved," said Eason. "They were involved whether giving their own box, or encouraging their friends."

Eason first became involved with OCC through her parents' church, which started giving boxes 15 years ago. At the time, Eason was a member of a celebrant singers organization, traveling through 42 countries to share the message of Christ through music. When she returned to the United States 10 years ago, she helped her parents fill their boxes before filling one of her own.

Shortly after starting her new position at Kuemper, the school was looking for a new missions giving project. Eason suggested Operation Christmas Child.

"It's exciting to see kids giving to kids," she said.

Eason said that she doesn't promote the mission as a competition. She does not tell the students how many boxes were provided in in previous years unless a student specifically asks her after class.

"I want them to give because they want to give," she explained.

This year, the donation week fell in the same week that Kuemper's volleyball and football teams were competing in state tournaments. Eason said that she expected donations to be down because parents would be busy, but her students impressed her.

"The kids really stepped up, going over and beyond," Eason said. "They're blessing kids around the world in orphanages, schools and similar remote places."

Once the boxes are completed and sealed, the students can track where their boxes are delivered. This year, the Kuemper boxes will be delivered in Kenya, Zambia, India, Madagascar and one undisclosed location. The latter is likely a Middle Eastern country with strained U.S. relations that is allowing the nonprofit in for the children, said Eason.

The Bible stories included in the boxes are translated into the children's languages. The booklets present Christ's life from birth through Resurrection. The languages include Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese, among others.

For Eason, the OCC mission has personal ties as well. She was an orphan in North Korea before she was adopted by her Iowa parents. She also spent time performing in several orphanages during her time abroad and imagines the children she met receiving some of the gifts packaged by her current students.

"I always hoped some kind person would have brought some Christmas to us," Eason said of her time in her South Korean orphanage. "It's cool to see the kids go beyond themselves. One person can make a huge difference."