By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
DALLAS – Last Saturday outside the Dallas Convention Center, thousands of people huddled together, wrapped in blankets, waiting for 8:30 a.m. when the doors would open for the 8th Annual Christmas Gift 2011.
“We were told that some people even came Friday night and camped out to make sure they had a good spot in line,” said Brittany Sumrall, volunteer coordinator for Shoes for Orphan Souls®, the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International. “This event fills such an important need in our community.”
Christmas Gift, an event run by Operation Care International, served more than 8,000 homeless people, veterans and low-income families last weekend with gifts, new clothes, warm meals, haircuts and new shoes. Buckner has participated in the event since it began in 2004 and donated more than 4,500 pairs of new shoes this year.
“The shoes provided are an incredible help to this ministry,” said Susie Jennings, founder of Operation Care. “They are the lifeline in the foot washing area.”
Jennings founded Operation Care in 1993 to provide for the physical needs of impoverished children and the homeless. Every December the organization partners with charities, churches, corporate and small business sponsors, individual sponsors and donors to hold the “nation’s largest Christmas party for the homeless.”
“Partnership is vital to this ministry,” Jennings said. “Each of our partners functions as the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Volunteer help is also essential. It took more than 3,000 volunteers to pull off Christmas Gift this year. At the foot washing station, kneeling before rows of chairs with paper towels, wet wipes and sanitizer, volunteers washed guests’ feet and fitted them with new socks and shoes.
“I was nervous about signing up for foot washing, but I felt it was where I should spend my time,” one volunteer said. “I’m so glad I went through with it. It’s been emotional and life changing.”
Buckner collects shoes year-round through its worldwide Shoes for Orphan Souls project. Since 1999, Shoes for Orphan Souls has collected and distributed more than 2.2 million pairs of new shoes to 74 countries around the world. About 20 percent of shoes collected by Buckner help vulnerable children and families in the U.S.
“Susie told me that every guest that needed a pair of shoes received a pair of shoes,” said Mike Julian, logistics manager for the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid. “That is a blessing!”
To learn more about the events and ministries of Operation Care International, visit their website at http://www.opcare.org/. For information about Shoes for Orphan Souls, visit http://shoesfororphansouls.org/.
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