She collects gifts for the world's kids

December 20, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories running on the 12 days before Christmas to recognize individuals and groups who make the holidays better for others.

This Christmas isn't even here yet, but Loretta Tharp is already thinking ahead to Christmas 2003.

As the coordinator of the Waynesboro collection center for Operation Christmas Child, Tharp gathers shoe boxes filled with toys and health care supplies that are later shipped to children around the world.

"Three years ago the shoe boxes went to refugee camps for those pushed out of Kosovo," Tharp said. "Children there may have never received a gift before. We Americans have no idea."


Her region extends from Hanover, Pa. to Everett, Pa., and as far south as Frederick, Md. Tharp had set a target of 20,000 shoe boxes this year, but donations topped 24,500.

She has set a goal of 30,000 boxes for next year, and she and a group of volunteers will begin meeting again in a few weeks.

Operation Christmas Child is an arm of Samaritan's Purse, the international Christian relief organization Franklin Graham founded in 1993.

More than 6 million shoe boxes were collected worldwide during the week before Thanksgiving, and the U.S. donations will make their way from six processing centers to 100 different countries this week.

"It's unbelievable. Ten thousand boxes came in that last Monday," Tharp said.

Sixteen relay sites brought shoe boxes to Waynesboro, which is one of 187 collection centers in the United States. Nearby Hess Armaclad Manufacturing donated space in its building and the use of forklifts to help with the collection.

Earlier this month, Tharp and 20 other volunteers drove with six tractor-trailers of shoe boxes to a processing center in Charlotte, N.C.

There they removed liquid or breakable items and added a pamphlet to each box with religious stories from Adam and Eve to Jesus' death, Tharp said.

Each box is unique.

"We want one big item like a doll baby or stuffed animal, something to cuddle and hold," she said.

School supplies, crayons, coloring books, and other small items like sunglasses, soap, washcloths, toothbrushes, and jump ropes usually round out the boxes, she said.

Tharp heard about Operation Christmas Child in 1994, and prepared two shoe boxes and shipped them directly to a processing center because the closest collection center was in Lancaster, Pa.

Two years later, Tharp headed up a relay to Lancaster and collected 335 shoe boxes.

"Since then we've grown every year," she said.

The first few years she collected boxes in her living room. "That grew to the bedroom and began overtaking the house," she said.

Tharp said part of the success of Operation Christmas Child is that it's so easy to be part of it.

"It's real deep in my heart," she said. "It's not just giving a shoe box. It also offers the gift of eternal life, and that is why I do it."

Tharp said hundreds of volunteers in the area help out. A core group will begin meeting again in the coming weeks to talk about ideas for next year's collection, including putting together a shoe box float for county Halloween parades.

Anyone interested in participating can call Tharp at 717-749-3897, or e-mail her at

Tomorrow: Eldon and Shirley Eichelberger, playing Santa.

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