By Ellen Fannon
Her motto is, “Just one more child.” This is what the shoebox lady, Elaine Lauderdale, has on her mind when she encourages everyone to participate in Operation Christmas Child at Rosemont Baptist Church in Niceville.
Rosemont, a small church with an average attendance of approximately 50 people, has sent out several hundred Christmas shoeboxes a year for the last several years. This past year, Rosemont sent out approximately 1,300 boxes. Elaine, who has been involved in the shoebox ministry for 25 years, spearheads this effort through her unique concept of mass production of shoeboxes. All year long, she hunts for bargains and buys items in bulk to go in shoeboxes. This system makes it more affordable to produce more boxes. Because items are purchased throughout the year, Rosemont realized several years ago that Elaine needed her own place where she could organize and store things until time to pack boxes—hence the “Elaine Lauderdale Shoebox Room” was born. Elaine, along with her team of several other women, spends countless hours sorting, counting and organizing items so that by the time the packing takes place, everything is ready to go. This year, the shoebox ladies started packing in March.
This year marked the 31st anniversary of Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, which uses gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. The boxes are filled with small toys, personal hygiene items, school supplies, clothing and other goodies, and delivered to impoverished children around the world. For many of these children, it is the first gift they have ever received. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 209 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 170 countries and territories. It is not the goal of Operation Christmas Child to supply children with a lifetime of soap, toys or school items. In fact, a child can only receive one shoebox in his/her life. Rather, it is an opportunity to share about the love of Jesus. Since 2010, more than 24.9 million children who have received a shoebox gift have participated in The Greatest Journey—a 12-lesson discipleship program. Children learn from trained, local volunteers what it means to follow Jesus and share their faith with friends and family. In 2023, over 17.4 children made decisions for Christ. It is estimated that for every three shoeboxes sent out, one child comes to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That estimate doesn’t include their family members or others in their towns and villages who may also come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as the result of their child receiving a simple gift of love. The testimonies of children whose lives have been forever changed by that one simple act of love are moving—from a child receiving exactly what she needed to carefully counted shoeboxes being multiplied when more children were present than boxes.
This is what drives Elaine to pack just one more box for one more child. Right after the shoebox dedication day, the second Sunday in November, the shelves in the shoebox room are bare. Elaine starts again, after Christmas, looking for bargains. People all over town know her and her shoebox ladies, and they have recruited many other people to help.
This year, Elaine’s granddaughter, Ceylona Chapman, a teacher at Rocky Bayou Christian School, got her students involved by giving a 100 on a quiz in return for a packed shoebox. The students at Rocky Bayou responded with 250 boxes! Although Elaine’s family attends a different church, she got her whole family involved this year in purchasing and sorting items, packing, assembling shoeboxes, and moving the boxes to storage until time to load them and ship them out. Every month she asks the church members to supply something—soap month, yoyo month, pencil month, etc. The expense, spread over the entire year among several people, is minimal. Many people, both inside and outside of the church, also bring things to put in the boxes. In addition, Rosemont set up a shoebox fund for people who want to contribute money in addition to, or instead of buying items. This money is used to purchase extra things needed to fill the boxes. And Elaine makes sure they are full! She has taught all the packers to utilize every square inch of those boxes. But the most important thing packed is prayer. During every packing session, Elaine stops, gives a “mini-sermon,” as she is never at a loss for words, and takes time to pray over the boxes and the children who will be receiving them.
Other churches, many much larger than Rosemont, have sent their shoebox coordinators to learn from Elaine. Most churches that participate in Operation Christmas Child do so by encouraging their members to take home and pack a box or two. Elaine does this, as well. Although massive numbers of boxes emerge from the shoebox room, members of the congregation are highly encouraged to take home and pack their own personal boxes and include photographs and letters. Several people have received thank you notes or emails from the child who received their box.
Elaine’s name is well known in the southeastern region with Atlanta as the Operation Christmas Child processing center. This year, not only was the shoebox room dedicated to Elaine, but she was also honored by a visit and a certificate of appreciation from the district shoebox coordinator who was overwhelmed by what Rosemont has been able to accomplish. Elaine and some of the other shoebox ladies have also traveled to Atlanta many times to volunteer for several days working in the processing center. Elaine would be the first to tell people that she doesn’t accomplish putting together the massive number of shoeboxes all by herself or even with the help of her team. She gives all the credit to God. But it is her infectious passion and enthusiasm for shoeboxes that excite everyone around her and make them want to get in on the action. Her vision and leadership have enabled a small church to do the impossible—sending out over 1,300 boxes this year! That’s why she’s called the shoebox lady and that’s why her vision has become Rosemont’s vision of “just one more child.”