When Christian Life Academy’s sophomore class decided to participate in Operation Christmas Child this year, it was a familiar concept to some of the students. The ministry, which sends Christmas packages to impoverished children around the world, has been embraced by many churches, schools and groups. This group of 10th-graders, however, has an unusual member — someone who has been on the receiving end of Operation Christmas Child.
When he was about 6 years old, Patrick Kitchen was in an orphanage in Manila, Philippines. One day, around Christmas, the children were lined up by age, and missionaries began handing out boxes. Inside each was a toy and a note. His was from a boy in Colorado who said he was praying for the recipient, and that God was watching out for him.
“I was very happy, and everyone else was really happy,” recalled Patrick, 16.
Brian and Melody Kitchen, of Baton Rouge, adopted him 10 years ago, and now Patrick’s happy to be sending a box to another child.
“I feel like I know more about it than most people who do this,” he said. “I would think how I reacted is the same way they would react — pure joy and happiness to know that somebody sent them something.”
Patrick said he doesn’t remember the gift he received, but his parents made notes of what he told them after his adoption, and it was a BeyBlade toy. Depending on their age, children either read the letter or someone read it to them. The missionaries who delivered the boxes stayed for several days and played with the children and put on skits with them.
“We would get toys now and then, but anything new was rare,” he said.
This is part of the premise behind Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse. People are invited to fill shoeboxes (or similarly sized boxes provided by Operation Christmas Child) with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, accessories and a personal note.
The CLA sophomores are including a class photo, paper and an envelope with the school’s address in hopes they’ll hear from some of the children who receive their boxes. They gathered at the high school cafeteria on Nov. 15 to pack the boxes with items they bought. They don’t know what child will receive the boxes, but each one is prepared based on gender and an age range, said Patti Matherne, mother of Anna Matherne, the sophomore class president.
Since 1993, more than 113 million gift boxes have been sent to children in over 150 countries through Operation Christmas Child, according to the organization’s website. The 2014 goal is to send boxes to 10 million children. Gifts are collected in the United States, Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
It’s unlikely that many of those boxes are from former recipients. But at least one will be.
“It meant a lot to me, and I wish that I could find that boy and thank him,” Patrick said. “I wish I could tell him that I am in America now and let him know what his gift and letter meant to me. I think about him still.”