Church beats the snow, has a go at field trip

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017


West End Baptist Church did it again — another successful field trip to Atlanta to bring Christmas to children around the world.

The church’s plans to depart Dec. 8 for the Atlanta processing factory for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes were met with an unexpected snow storm.

But the heavy snowfall did little to hinder the trip, instead initiating an even earlier departure from Clanton for the eager participants.

This year, 17 church members joined the volunteer forces in Atlanta, many of them mother-daughter duos.

Project Coordinator Benita Hallmark said this number was down from the typical 24-26 members who participate, due to several unavoidable circumstances.

“But what’s so exciting, our whole church gets behind it,” Hallmark said of the project.

Hallmark described weeks of shopping and storing shoeboxes and “cases,” meeting a Nov. 12 deadline before relocating the items to a designated collection location in Thorsby, from which the packages were collected and transported by Operation Christmas Child to the massive processing warehouse in Atlanta.

Hallmark said volunteers from across the country contribute each year to the shoebox processing at the center, which collected 1.6 million shoeboxes from southern states this year.

Participants must be at least 13 years old to volunteer.

“There’s a little orientation,” Hallmark said of the experience, “but then we go in, and we get to go through each box. And we check for anything that shouldn’t be in it … then we pull it out, and then we put a filler item in there.”

The shoeboxes processed the day that West End Baptist assisted were destined for distribution in the small West African country Burkina Faso, according to Hallmark.

“It is a lot of fun, and if you ever do it, it’s just—it’s so exhilarating to do it!” she said.

Hallmark said the experience is exhilarating because of the sense that “you’re part of something very, very big.”

“And when you package boxes, you know how your money’s spent … You know it’s going to go to a child,” she said. “And some of these children have never had a gift before.”

Hallmark described the excitement on children’s faces upon receiving and opening their gifts, which were shown to the warehouse volunteers from videos of previous years’ distributions.

“About every couple of hours, there’s a devotional, and they’ll tell a story about a child that got a box.”

Hallmark shared one story about a young boy who received a bar of soap, after being able to use only one communal bar of soap shared with numerous other boys when they bathed once a month at a public bathhouse.

“That one bar of soap made him feel loved,” Hallmark said.

Letters are a particular highlight to gift recipients — especially to orphans who are given shoeboxes, Hallmark said.

“One of them said, ‘I feel like this is part of my family — this is my sister and this is my brother,’” Hallmark quoted one child who had a letter and accompanying photo of the family who gave the gift.

“You wouldn’t think something so little would make such an impact,” she said.

Hallmark encourages individuals to volunteer at the center if given the chance. It’s not something to miss out on.

For more information about Operation Christmas Child, visit