A shoebox of something special

Published November 7, 2014

As I pointed to the shoebox on the table, the word “Sa-mar-i-tan” hovering behind me on the flip chart, I asked, “What goes in here?”All the hands in my Sunday school class shot up.

I hadn’t planned on using the Samaritan’s PurseOperation Christmas Child shoebox as part of my lesson, but it felt like a coincidence too meaningful to ignore: the narthex at our church was chock-a-block with the iconic green-and-red boxes and I was on duty to teach “The Good Samaritan” from The Beginner’s Bible.

I nodded to one girl, who was eager to answer my question as to contents.”Stuff you don’t want anymore,” she said. Say what you will about Operation Christmas Child—some love it, others hate it—but one of its great strengths is the tangible teaching moment it offers about giving.

“Close,” I said, to my bright-eyed student in that prosodic, hedgy tone teachers use when they don’t want to bruise a tiny ego.”But I think it’s actually supposed to be brand new stuff.”

Interestingly, Operation Christmas Child is not the only charitable drive that encourages donors to give new—that’s another love it or hate it trend. For example, the firefighters in my neighbourhood do an annual drive for snowsuits and boots for kids in need. The community responds generously, but I’m often surprised at the amount of complaining that goes on about second-hand goods not being welcome.

I tell people there are good reasons for the stipulation, one of which is that the fire hall would be inundated with dirty, useless crap without it. If you think I’m being harsh, go talk to anyone who’s ever worked in a charitable donation centre: Halloween has nothing on the horror stories these folks have to tell.

In his critically acclaimed book A Year of Living Generously, author Lawrence Scanlan chronicles his time spent volunteering at a Hospitality Centre for the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Kingston, Ont. Scanlan points to the dubious nature of some of the so-called generosity that staff and volunteers at Vinnie’s have encountered through the years: “People bring in dirty laundry, food-encrusted dishes, broken mirrors and even, one time, a pail of dirty diapers.”

What’s even sadder is that Christians are not immune to this contemptuous “beggars can’t be choosers” attitude. I’ll never forget the sad expression on the face of a colleague who, years ago, had summoned “gently used” clothing and household items for a refugee family. The call to give went out exclusively through church communications channels and, even still, many of the things that were given in the name of Christian generosity were in such dismal condition it left her shaking her head, disillusioned and disbelieving: “How could people think this is good enough?”

I quickly realized that “Old Stuff versus New Stuff”was the conversation the kids and I needed to have, so I wrote the two phrases in bullets underneath “Samaritan” on the flip chart, the central question being: What does God want us to give—leftovers or first fruits?

The kids and I gently perused the sample shoebox I’d brought from upstairs,which had been perfectly packed. Without disturbing the contents I showed them the tag on the new shirt that had been neatly folded in the box. We could see a bright green toothbrush in its plastic and cardboard packaging. And there was a mini-football with snow-white laces—a new toy that will be christened on a muddy field overseas.

“How would you feel if you got a dirty football?” I asked. “Or a shirt that was worn or stained?”

The kids agreed that the gifts in the box were not only the kind of gifts they’d be happy to receive, but also the kind they could feel good about giving. “New things make you feel special,” said one little boy.

Great—they got it. And just in time, too, as I heard the familiar rumbling overheard that signalled Communion was about to begin and that I’d survived another shift on the Sunday school roster.

We plodded up the red-carpeted stairs together and one of my students returned the shoebox to the pile, where it was ready to fly far away with all the rest.

May God bless the little hands that receive it—whoever he is, may he know that he is loved, and may these little gifts bring him some measure of the magic of childhood.

Michelle Hauser is a former fundraiser turned newspaper columnist and freelance writer. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Her work includes contributions to CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Kingston Whig-Standard. She can be reached through her website at www.michellehauser.ca.


  • Michelle Hauser

    Michelle Hauser is an award-winning freelance columnist and freelance writer. Her work includes contributions to The National Post, The Globe and Mail, The Kingston Whig-Standard and numerous other publications. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at St. Mary Magdalene. She can be reached at [email protected]

    [email protected]

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