By: Danielle Nye

If you grew up in a Pentecostal church, then there is a good chance you have heard of Operation Christmas Child (OCC), led by Samaritan’s Purse International Relief. OCC is a charity where shoeboxes are filled with small items to be delivered to children in need around the world. Suggestions given on the website for what to add to  these boxes include items like soccer balls, dolls, school supplies, clothing and more. The organization boasts over 178 million shoeboxes delivered since the organization’s creation in 1993, but how helpful are these shoeboxes really? As hundreds of schools and churches continue to participate in the process, some have stopped to ask whether OCC really is making a difference.

One of the main problems with the shoebox idea is that the contents included are not always helpful and can instead prove to be harmful. There have been reports of children in areas of the world where it never snows receiving mittens and scarves in their boxes. Additionally, children often do not know how to play with the toys gifted and they are then tossed to the side or sold. These toys also create competition with the local market and can hurt the economy, causing financial harm to store owners. The thought of gifting a child across the world a gift for Christmas is a nice one, but it also can make parents feel inferior and patronized for what they can provide for their child. OCC and Samaritan’s Purse are also both run by CEO Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who has made questionable statements in the past that are worth researching if you are concerned about the face of the organization.

In general, the biggest help this holiday season would be to donate money to charities that truly act in communities and provide care for those who need it. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) “Home is Here” campaign is one that is raising awareness for DACA students whose protection has now been limited to one year, rather than two, under the Trump administration. This means that DACA students’ threat of deportation is increased and future eligible undocumented DACA students will be rejected. Through donating to “Home is Here,” your contribution will be split between multiple immigration protection and awareness charities such as the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and UndocuBlack Network. Immigrant families should not have to worry about being deported a year from now and treat this holiday season as their last one together.

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Another more local charity worth donating to or volunteering with is Mary’s Place, a Seattle-based organization that empowers homeless women, children, and families to reclaim their lives. Mary’s Place works to provide shelters and homes for those who need it, connecting adults with employment and children with schooling to protect and provide for those who are struggling to get by. Washington is getting colder each day, and one trip to downtown Seattle will show you the amount people sleeping in tents on the pavement who need protection and provision. Mary’s Place offers many ways to volunteer each week, and any donation amount is helpful.

Navos is another notable Washington-based organization that offers help for those reclaiming their lives from mental illness, trauma, addiction, or abuse. They provide housing and treatment centers for those in need of a place to recover and receive counseling. The organization places an emphasis on recovery and resilience and is accessible to people of all backgrounds. Due to COVID-19, Navos has taken a significant hit financially and needs donations to keep providing meals and treatment to those being housed currently. Please consider volunteering with or donating to a cause that makes a difference this holiday season.