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Involvement with Operation Christmas Child a blessing for local woman

December 20, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Carletta Leather of Hagerstown has been collecting and decorating shoeboxes of gifts for Operation Christmas Child for the last eight years.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Carletta Leather said that at age 76, she has everything she needs. For birthdays and Christmas she asks her children to give her packing tape, a testament to how important her involvement with Operation Christmas Child has become to her.

“They didn’t like the idea at first,” she said.

The packing tape is used to completely cover the decorated shoeboxes, that will hold gifts for needy children across the globe. Carletta has heard that the boxes are prized by the children as much as the contents inside.

Leather, who lives in the Oak Ridge area with her husband of 12 years, Don Leather, admits she was reluctant about getting involved when a member at their church, The Good Shepherd Ministries in Hagerstown, was seeking volunteers for Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse.

She and Don each have three children and six grandchildren.

The effort was started by the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham. Shoeboxes filled with gifts for needy children are delivered around the world.

When volunteers were needed to travel to Charlotte, N.C., to help sort and ship the shoeboxes, this time the Leathers decided to help.

“Don and I decided to go. I was hooked,” Carletta said.

This is the couple’s eighth year with this ministry and the first year they didn’t make the trip to Charlotte, because Carletta had foot surgery earlier in the year.

“I decided to take it easy this year, but I’ll be back next year hopefully,” Carletta said.

It was during the two-month recovery when she had to stay off her feet that she decorated the majority of the boxes, almost doubling her usual number.

“Now I can put one together in no time, 15 to 20 minutes,” Carletta said.

This year, Carletta collected and decorated 900 shoeboxes. Their church fills and ships 1,600 shoeboxes.

Don assists by going in his pickup to the Rockport, Nike and Reebok outlets at Premium Outlets most Mondays to pick up shoeboxes they are discarding.

Carletta has learned that old greeting card covers and calendars work better than gift wrap for decorating the boxes.

“I’m real picky. I match up the print,” Carletta said of the seam where the lid opens.

“I always tell everybody I want that box to look like my child was getting it. That’s what I have in mind all the time.”

The winter months are when she focuses on decorating boxes. She said Don likes to put together jigsaw puzzles on winter evenings and she heads to the basement to work on boxes, usually completing 10 to 15 boxes per night.

“It really takes all year,” Carletta said.

Carletta personally fills 150 of the boxes with items she purchases throughout the year, always searching for sales and clearance items.

She estimates that she spends about $3,000 each year and said her daughter also keeps her eyes open for bargains that she contributes to the cause.

“I’m just addicted to it. I like helping people, especially poor people. I didn’t have a lot growing up. When you spread it out over the year, you really don’t miss it, at least I don’t,” Carletta said.

Some of the items Leather includes are shirts, shorts, a pair of socks and underwear, soap with washcloth, Kleenex, hair brush, toothbrush and toothpaste, stuffed animals, spiral notebook, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, glue sticks, word games and activity books.

She reserves the smaller boxes for the youngest age group, 2 to 4, and prides herself in being able to fit 22 items in those boxes.

Besides the items she stores in the basement, she also rents a storage unit to hold everything until the boxes get stuffed in October, with the assistance of church friends. 

She partners with a friend who doesn’t like to shop. Her friend pays the $7 shipping cost per box.

In each box, Carletta includes a letter with a photo of her and Don in an envelope with their address on it. As a result, they receive some thank you notes, bearing the stamps from all over the world, including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Nairobi and Peru, to name a few.

“I would love to go help deliver these, but very few people get to help. And I don’t fly,” Carletta said with a laugh.

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