I walked past the green and red shoeboxes and my heart caught just a little bit. I was in the middle of Hobby Lobby and my senses were overwhelmed with plaid pillows, glittery ornaments and ceramic Santas. But it was the tidy stack of boxes that held my attention.
Those boxes are a connection to the precious innocence of my now-teenage children.
Every year, since my Jordan, Charlie and Ben were little, they would each fill up a box for a child somewhere across the globe. Toy cars, crayons and magically growing washcloths always seemed to make it into their boxes. The kids also included a photo and a little note saying hello.
We then dropped our “Operation Christmas Child” boxes at our church, where volunteers made sure they found their way to a waiting child somewhere around the world.
We didn’t put one together last year. I missed the nostalgia of it, but I didn’t push it, because, well, life with two teens, an elementary school kid and a basketball coach just felt too busy.
A poor excuse, I know.
Roy Becker reminded me of those sweet shoeboxes when he sent me this note about a woman who gives thanks for being alive by packing up those boxes.
“My wife, Patty, and I have coordinated the Samaritan's Purse ‘Operation Christmas Child’ shoebox collection at First Baptist Church in Aberdeen, S.D., for somewhere around 25 years.
"The number of shoeboxes we collect and then deliver to the Relay Center in Sioux Falls usually runs from 1,500-2,000. It's a great ministry that lots of churches and individuals around Aberdeen are involved in.
"We have an individual in our church who has put together shoeboxes for many years. Peggy Abeln does an extra box for every year she is cancer-free. This year, she’ll be donating 21 boxes.
"Peggy was an elementary school teacher for 44 years until she retired in 2017. She has had various health problems over the years but has beaten death a number of times.
"I see the kindness she continues to spread for all the underprivileged children around the world. These are kids who don’t even know her, yet she has touched over all these years. That’s not even counting all the young children she has influenced in her teaching years here in Aberdeen."
When I talked with Peggy about her commitment to Operation Christmas Child, she shared her love of God and her love of children. She said even though she never had any children of her own, her whole life has been dedicated to kids.
Peggy said, “I knew if I lived through the cancer I would give those boxes to say thank you to God.
"Each child only gets a box once in their lifetime. I think every kid should have something to hug so I always pack a stuffed animal (along with other things) to give joy and lightness in their lives."
National Collection Week is Nov. 16-23. For more information, please visit samaritanspurse.org.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Aberdeen, S.D., with her three children and her husband, Saul Phillips, the head men's basketball coach at Northern State University. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.