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Being selfless this time of year
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On Friday I walked into a massive Santa Ana warehouse filled with boxes of shoeboxes stuffed with gifts for kids in spots all over the globe. Since I was there to help out for only a brief time I felt rather overwhelmed and insignificant. There were hundreds of thousands of boxes to be checked and packed into boxes and how much of a dent could I make since I was only scheduled to work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.?

This was my second year of traveling down to Orange County the first week of December to volunteer for Operation Christmas Child. It's a program founded by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and involves the call for volunteers to shop for small items to brighten a child's holiday. Chances are that if you attend a church in the Ceres area that you've heard of it. You may have even created a shoebox this year. People buy things like stuffed animals, pens, crayons, small toys, toothbrushes and toothpaste and candy and pack them into a shoebox. You can image how the face of a child who has very little will light up when the boxes are opened.

OCC (for short) pulls off a seemingly impossible task every year to deliver these shoeboxes to large cities and small villages across the earth. The gifts come with a tract telling the children about Jesus Christ and the significance of the globe's biggest holiday. The boxes that we sorted and packed are going to Mongolia, Peru, China and Indonesia. Other centers are located throughout the country to ship boxes to other nations.

Volunteers go through each box to make sure that inappropriate items are removed, including things that could leak (like soap bubble liquids) in transit, and other things like money and war toys. Money is removed because American dollars could get a small child killed in some of the countries where life is meaningless to bandits. The boxes are then packed 14 or more to a cardboard box in an exercise akin to putting a puzzle together.

Working next to me, ironically were members of a Modesto church who headed down for three days of work.

The thing that always sticks with me is glancing at the letters and photos that some gift donors slip into the box. Photos and letters from good people. Indeed, the shoebox is a way to prepare children to be selfless at this time of year. Last year I saw that a family in Montana sent a number of boxes. I saw many letters that expressed love to an unknown child in some remote village for whom they would never meet. I was moved by some of the letters, (which we weren't supposed to read but did occasionally).

At the end of my shift my back was killing me and everyone in my party experienced the same strain and tension. But our minds were thinking about others. Even as we visited a shopping center in Irvine where shoppers were moving to and fro, we kept thinking about why more Americans don't feel led to helping out others more.

It's too late to donate a shoebox to OCC this year, but locally there are many other ways to help. In Ceres, the Police Department and Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children are accepting gifts for their first annual Hands of Compassion Toy Giveaway set for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19 in downtown Ceres. Needy children from the Ceres and South Modesto area have been identified through referrals from the school district and Partnership to receive gifts from Santa. Donors may get involved by buying and donating new or gently used unwrapped toys for children aged from infant to 15. Also being accepted are new and/or gently used coats, board games or checks made payable to the Ceres VIPS. Donations will be accepted at the Ceres Police Department, 2727 Third Street in Ceres until Dec. 16.

Also at the Ceres Community Center is an Adopt-a-Family Christmas Tree where one could pick a card with a needy family's Christmas wish and help make it a reality.

The Modesto office of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is also hosting its annual "CHIP's For Kids" toy drive in an effort to help some of the needier families in Stanislaus County celebrate Christmas. Again, the need is for new unwrapped presents to distribute to kids throughout the county who might not otherwise have any gifts to open. Toys may be dropped off at Tuolumne Elementary School, 707 Herndon Road.

The CHP is looking for toys to distribute to all age groups. Two age groups commonly overlooked are preteens and teenagers, sports equipment and gift certificates such as movie passes are favorites for these groups. The toys will be distributed on Dec. 22-24, so the deadline to drop off is Monday Dec. 21.

While helping out for the holidays is an altruistic start, the need to serve others is year long and requires a lifelong commitment. Just look around and see the need of your neighbors, your community. Count your blessings and heed the words found in Luke 12:48: "Much will be required from everyone to whom much has been given."

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at