In this “season of giving,” some community members have gone above and beyond.

In her 21st year of participating in Operation Christmas Child, Sylvia Boozer, of St. Anne, put together and donated 253 shoe boxes during last month’s collection at Faith Reformed Church. These boxes will be given to children in need all around the world through Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian relief organization that runs the program with 4,500 drop-off sites for donations.

While Boozer spends all year working on this project, she made it clear that it is a group effort.

“It’s not just me. It’s other people who know what I do and they give their generosity,” she said, noting that friends, family and even strangers she meets in stores have given donations along the way.

Boozer has created a list of the 27 people and which box each person helped with. In addition, for a woman who mailed a $200 check as a donation, Boozer is making a list of everything she was able to purchase with that money.

When Operation Christmas Child lets Boozer know where each of her boxes was sent, she plans to contact the 27 helpers with that information.

“I’m looking forward to finding out where the boxes went,” she said, sharing that past boxes have been sent to places like Colombia and Tanzania.

Dorinda Trovillion, of Chebanse, double-checked the contents of boxes headed for Colombia on Monday in the Chicago area’s OCC processing center in Aurora. She volunteers there in addition to being a year-round OCC volunteer at her church, Bethel Baptist Church in Bourbonnais.

Though she said Bethel Baptist Church only averages 60 to 70 people attending Sunday worship, the church contributed 1,283 boxes.

“It is not unusual when we have a packing party to have somebody that is 8 years old packing a shoe box and somebody who’s 90,” Trovillion said.

Preparing the gifts

Boozer has a dedicated closet where she stores all of her supplies and she uses her dining room as her “little elf workshop.”

When she first began, the organization did not supply the boxes as they now do, so Boozer was on a constant mission to obtain shoeboxes. She would ask friends, family and neighbors for their boxes, and would even make weekly trips to every local shoe store to pick up discarded or unneeded boxes.

“I’m of the mindset that I like to recognize others and I’m very grateful [to the people who have helped],” she shared. “Even if you do just one box, that’s a labor of love. I think everyone who did one box should get recognition.”

This year, the church supplied her with 100 boxes. For each box, Boozer wraps the lid and the bottom of the box to make it look like a present.

When she started in 2000, she did one box for a girl and one box for a boy. Over time, the labor of love became a year-round project and she is able to create so many boxes by shopping sales and clearance.

Like Boozer, Trovillion started packing shoe boxes in 2000 after hearing her aunt talk about preparing a box for “her boy.”

Trovillion said Bethel members make bead dolls, jewelry and jump ropes out of T-shirts. They also have their own standards, such as each box needing to include school supplies.

“Our motto is that ‘We don’t mail air,’” she said. “We pack ‘em full. We want it to be the best gift that a child’s ever received.”

Boozer purchases jewelry from thrift stores and breaks the pieces down to make her own bracelets for each girl box she creates. She also makes her own games and cards.

“That’s how I spend my time,” she said. “I pray for the box as I’m packing and buying for it … I think of those children. I don’t know who’s going to get it, but it warms my heart to know that they will [receive it].”

The effort is worth it, Trovillion said, because the boxes change lives.

”We have heard back from children who have received boxes, and they have gone all over the world, and it’s amazing,” she said.

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