A small church with a big heart

Caldwell Springs Baptist Church is tiny compared to the mountains it is nestled between, yet its love for those in need produces a heart of service that rivals megachurches an hour away.

Longtime members Maria Ward and Vivian Hammonds spearhead Caldwell Springs’ efforts in Operation Christmas Child, a national organization dedicated to providing Christmas presents to children across the globe.

Ward participated in the program on her own for the past 40 years, and Hammonds became the Director of Women’s Missionary Group at the church, which normally oversaw Operation Christmas Child in the area.

“For many of these kids, their whole world is in that box,” Ward said.

Operation Christmas Child delivers these gifts in the form of shoeboxes provided by the organization. Participants stuff supplies, clothing and toys into each shoebox and prepare them for shipping to their designated collection point.

Caldwell Springs is a church of around 50 people, yet this past year, Ward said they managed to pull together and donate roughly 1,200 individual shoeboxes.

“The response has been tremendous,” Hammonds said.

The organization has guidelines on their website for what items to use for each box, as it lists different age and gender categories participants can use to decide what to pack.

“They can be hygiene items, clothing, school supplies and toys,” Hammonds said. “These are things to make a child happy.”

This year, the church has taken on an additional challenge with each box.

“Every box will have a full set of clothes,” Ward said. “Some of them are even hand-made.”

Ward said Christmas Child delivers the boxes to wherever the need is greatest, particularly in areas with disaster, war and famine.

She said she often puts her return address label on the boxes she packs, and two times she has received a letter back from the recipient of her boxes.

“When I open that mailbox and see that letter, I say ‘It was worth it,’” Ward said.

Hammonds said her friends will track the packages online, so they can see where the shoeboxes end up.

“They tell me it is satisfying to see where they are going,” she said.

From Caldwell Springs, the boxes will go to a collection point at First Christian church, and from there, they will go to either Boone or Charlotte in North Carolina, where Christmas Child will then ship them overseas.

Ward said last year they struggled packaging the hundreds of boxes they received on a weekly basis, but now they can package nearly 200 boxes an hour.

For those wondering how to participate in this project, Ward described some ways to help out.

“Carter County is not the richest county,” Ward said. “What you can do is, in January, go to the Dollar Tree and buy one item, either a towel or some toothpaste. In February, buy another item for one dollar, and so on. By November, you will have a whole box’s worth of items to donate, for just a dollar a month.”

Hammonds said the program allows people to share their blessings with others.

“They can be appreciative of what they have,” she said. “They can do so with minimal effort. Deep down, I think most people want to do that.”

For those wanting to make a financial donation, they can do so at Operation Christmas Child’s website.

Ward said the secret to their success was their faith.

“When a child somewhere opens that box, they can know that only by God could they receive that gift,” she said.

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