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Catholic Life Christmas Education Features

Notre Dame Academy students pack shoeboxes of kindness


What better display of the Christmas spirit than kids helping kids?

This month, students at Notre Dame Academy are taking part in Operation Christmas Child, which benefits impoverished children from across the globe. Since 1993, more than 178 million children in more than 150 countries have received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. These boxes are filled with hygiene items, art supplies, small toys, and other gifts along with letters and prayer written by caring gift-givers from schools, churches and families.

Operation Christmas Child is a product of Samaritan’s Purse founded by Franklin Graham.

All the students from the South Buffalo elementary school are bringing in donations for the project, while the fifth-grade class packs the gifts into special shoebox packages. The finished boxes will then be taken to a Samaritan’s Purse drop off center to prepare them for shipping to needy children in foreign countries. Once there, a Good News ambassador will distribute the boxes and deliver a message about Jesus Christ. Each box is packed with a Good News storybook that tells of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

“During this time of difficulty and craziness this is a perfect opportunity for our Notre Dame community to focus on the blessings and things of life we take for granted daily,” commented Lauren Ruhl, fifth-grade teacher at Notre Dame Academy. “Having an attitude of gratefulness is important especially now as we enter this holiday season amongst Covid and other challenges. This is also a project that allows the students and families to reach out in kindness to those in need, without needing to travel, and band together in love.”

The boxes are labeled for the intended recipient – boy or girl, and age range. Then packed with personal care items, toys and school supplies. Often people who pack the boxes include a hand-drawn picture or personal letter.

“I, as a kid, would often write letters to the recipient,” Ruhl said. “We never really knew who was receiving it, but we would write letters saying we were praying for them, thinking about them, and sending them God’s love.”

A $9 processing fee for each box includes a label with a tracking code. The class can go online and receive a geography lesson as they see the 100 different countries where the boxes are delivered, including Africa, the Middle East and South America.

The project fits into Notre Dame’s Character Education curriculum, which uses Jesus as a role model for generosity.

“We are working with our students to practice showing what kinds of things we can do as Catholics to show God’s love despite all the stressful things that are happening in the world right now,” Ruhl explained. “Our students are going through a lot anxiety and a lot of uncertainty right now, as are all of us adults. For them to be able to find hope in seeing ways that they can spread the Good News to others is a great way to build that character in our students to help them understand that the smallest gifts and the smallest actions can make a huge difference in other people’s lives.”

Ruhl hopes the project continues in the school, so the kids can participate from year to year. She recalls the joy she and her siblings had as children shopping with their parents to pick out items, writing letters, and them packing them at home.  

“That was a tradition for my family. That has continued into my adult life. My husband and I do one every year. It is something I have been blessed by doing and as a result would love to share it with my students,” she said. “It’s a really awesome opportunity for the kids to be able to not only share their faith and their Catholic virtues through this, but also to help kids who are less fortunate.”

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ. The organization serves the Church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brian, Michael and Daniel show off some of the presents collected for Notre Dame Academy’s Operation Christmas Child project. The South Buffalo school collected needed products and fun toys for impoverished children across the globe. Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Academy.

Melynnie writes a letter that will accompany presents to a needy child somewhere in the world. All the students of Notre Dame Academy helped make this year’s Operation Christmas Child a success.