In Old Mexico, there is the tradition of Christmas shoes; when the three kings pass on their way to Bethlehem, they stop to fill the shoes of children carefully placed on windowsills before bedtime.
In Southern New Mexico, communities fill shoe boxes rather than shoes in celebration of the Christmas season.
“We take for granted sometimes what goes into the box, but people really cherish the items that they receive,” explains Operation Christmas Child Artesia Director, Penny Youtsey. The things that we have are far less common around the world than we realize. Perhaps a stuffed bear, a ball, or a pair of shoes may be the thing of prayers to children in developing countries or disaster regions. Two generations of Artesians have grown up participating in Operation Christmas Child in various ways around the community. For those new to Artesia and the region, Operation Christmas Child “is a project of Samaritan’s Purse a 501(c)3 nonprofit that delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to children around the world as a tangible expression of God’s love through the hands of local partners to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, God’s Greatest Gift.”
Penny Youtsey, librarian assistant at Yeso Elementary, and Nancy Terpening, registered nurse, both long-time residents of Artesia, have volunteered through Operation Christmas Child for years. Youtsey began in the late 90’s when Ruth Bratcher led the program at First Baptist Church. Terpening began volunteering when the program expanded beyond the Baptist churches around town and became pan-denominational, that is, nearly all the churches across Artesia working together to build as many Christmas boxes as possible to send to the far corners of the globe.
Both Youtsey and Terpening recall the early days of the program when they helped fill actual shoe boxes with balls, school supplies, and other useful items. In those days, their children helped pack the boxes; nowadays, the task belongs to the grandkids. As the program expanded over the years, Samaritan’s Purse began printing shoebox sized boxes of their own with Operation Christmas Child’s logo on them. The boxes received a major upgrade a few years back when they became the red and green reusable totes noticeable around the community.
The green and red totes are another one of those common items taken for granted; the Operation Christmas Child totes can be reused around their homes by the children who have received items from the organization. The totes become food and water storage or a place for a child’s belongings. In the spirit of the program, every item serves a greater purpose.
Artesia packs over 1,000 “shoebox” totes annually. Some folks collect all year round for the collection drive, and Faith Baptist Church, the home church of the program, keeps a closet dedicated to items that will be used by Operation Christmas Child.
Besides the many churches of Artesia collecting and packing boxes, the Chase Scholar Program and the Artesia High School Honor Society assist in Operation Christmas Child as do some local nursing students and elementary school students. Right before the big send off from Artesia to Roswell, there are a number of sleepless nights to get the boxes filled and prepped for their journey to Colorado or Dallas. The boxes must be filled to the brim with useful objects, have a shipping label, and have rubber bands to secure the lids. Tape and ribbons to secure lids are discouraged because the boxes must be checked at collecting hubs before they reach their final destinations.
Boxes packed in Southeast New Mexico usually go to Mexico, but a number of the boxes has gone as far away as the Ukraine, Guatemala, and the Philippines. Youtsey shares a story about her son visiting Ukraine on a mission trip who came across a closet full of the older printed cardboard style OCC boxes at the church where he was stationed. The boxes were being repurposed to hold crayons, glue, and markers. Her son explained that when he saw the boxes, the mission of the program and all of the boxes he helped pack as a child came full circle. He helped make a difference in another child’s life in the name of Jesus. The work completed for Operation Christmas Child in Artesia resonates around the world. Collection for shoe box season begins at the end of October in Artesia.
What are Penny and Nancy adding to their shoe boxes this year?
Soccer balls with pumps, jump ropes, and handmade cards from their Sunday School classrooms.
Article written by Kaity Hirst and originally published in Focus Regional 2021 Winter edition.