By KEA YENGST
While many students across Monterey County prepare for a holiday season like no other, a small group of Carmel High School students who are members of the Carmel Presbyterian Church Youth Group work together to help children in need of Christmas cheer in a safe yet collaborative manner.
Operation Christmas Child, a community service project created by nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse, provides underprivileged students around the world with boxes filled with toys, games and other novelty items. Building a box online only costs $25, but students have also been able to give back through making boxes off-line.
“It’s essential in our faith that we serve and love others and a great God who has given us so much and loves us so much,” says Amanda de la Vega, one of two adults in charge of the church’s youth group. “It’s a privilege to serve and help those in need and to love someone and bless them just through a simple gift.”
The project isn’t anything new to CPC. In fact, this is their third year in a row that they’ve participated in Operation Christmas Child. Of course, this year has been different than previous years, especially with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, but the recent obstacles haven’t prevented the church’s youth from finding ways to give back within their community.
“Normally, it’s just something we do with middle school and high school students, especially since it’s an easy way to put their faith into action,” de la Vega explains.
The students involved, some of whom are members of Carmel High School’s Christian Free Food Club, meet every Wednesday evening to pack boxes filled with toys and games for children around the world. Other members of the church also collaborate on Operation Christmas Child outside of youth group meetings as well.
“In a normal year, we would take our high school group of 35 to 40 kids and meet at Target, buy our stuff then come together and pack them,” the program coordinator says. “We met on Zoom for a while, but then slowly transitioned to meeting in person with masks and social distancing.”
Josie Steiny, a CHS junior who has been involved in the youth group for about three years, volunteered to hold socially distanced meetings at her house earlier this year to keep the faith going no matter what circumstances.
“I chose to hold these meetings at my house because I feel passionate about my faith and the church needed a welcoming environment where others can learn about the love of Jesus,” Steiny says. “Operation Christmas Child is an amazing way to spread God’s love to children of all ethnicities, cultures and genders all around the world.”
CHS senior Ashley Davidson, also a member, explains how holiday cheer can still be spread despite certain obstacles.
“This year we weren’t able to go to Target and get things for our boxes together due to COVID-19 regulations,” Davidson adds, “but we are still able to go out and make a child happy. Operation Christmas Child is a great thing because people can contribute by giving a child a good Christmas. Knowing that you made a kid’s day on Christmas is really special.”
Of course, this mission isn’t as straightforward as sending a gift through snail mail. Many other steps are involved before a child receives their gift.
“We first make the boxes then give them to another local church, who later sends them to a local distribution center,” de la Vega explains. “From there, the distribution center goes through all the boxes and everything inside to make sure the contents are allowed to be sent to these countries and areas.”
What’s unique about this year’s round of giving is that the host organization, the Samaritan’s Purse, has set up an online format of creating a box, which includes a tracking system to see where each box is headed, a plethora of box contents to choose from and even opportunities to volunteer at local processing centers.
“Students go to the website and create their own box,” de la Vega notes. “There are essentials they can put in their box, and there are fun things they can include, like calculators, T-shirts and frisbees. Students can tailor the box to things that they are interested in and can even include a little note or picture.”
CPC is not alone in helping children through Operation Christmas Child. In fact, others across the country can also help out this global community effort.
“Operation Christmas Child runs through our church, but anyone can do it,” de la Vega says. “Schools can do it. Individuals can do it. Anybody can do it. It is a Christian organization, but anybody is welcome to participate.”
With the communal contributions of the CPC youth, kindness and giving will be contagious this winter for children around the world to enjoy this holiday season. Visit www.carmelpres.org/occ for more information.