Hope floats ... and so does Ivory soap. And they make a perfect pair to be packed into "Christmas Shoeboxes" for children in countries where both are in short supply.
For the thousands of youngsters in 100 Third World nations who receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filled with gifts, finding a bar of soap produces a joy most of us cannot comprehend. And if the soap is Ivory, it will float atop the muddy water where families must bathe and wash their clothes. Other soaps can slip away and sink out of sight in the murky water.
A new bar of soap also means hope -- the kind of hope that only comes from realizing someone -- somewhere -- in the world cares about them enough to send gifts that can make life a little brighter, happier, healthier, and yes, hopeful.
It was the picture of a simple bar of soap in the hands of a small child that reaffirmed my family's commitment to packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for the past 17 years.
My granddaughter, Peri, then 7, and I had watched a video of Paul and Loie Bruizeman of Kennewick delivering Christmas shoeboxes to children in Madagascar. The precious cargo had been trucked down rutted jungle roads, hauled in handmade boats, and balanced atop bicycles and heads to reach the children.
Their excitement bubbled up as the boxes were handed out. Some had never received a gift before and just held it unopened; others shyly peeked inside, awed by the array of colorful goods. They hugged dolls, tossed balls, admired bracelets, tested crayons and admired toothbrushes.
One little girl clutched a single bar of soap like a priceless treasure.
"It was the first time she had her very own bar of soap," Paul Bruizeman said.
Tears stung my eyes and humbled my heart. I thought of my Christmas tree surrounded with brightly-wrapped parcels and wondered if anyone would be thrilled to get soap.
The Madagascar story also planted a resolve in Peri's heart to always pack a bar of soap in her shoeboxes. She still does -- 17 years later.
It's that time again when area youngsters, adults, service groups, businesses, and churches pack shoeboxes for children 14 and younger. Donors are asked to include $7 per shoebox to defray shipping costs; the biblical Christmas story in a child's native language is added.
The outreach began 20 years ago by Samaritan's Purse, a worldwide nonprofit Christian relief agency founded by Franklin Graham. In 2012, Mid-Columbians donated 12,642 shoeboxes as part of 6.5 million nationwide.
A wide variety of items are packed into Christmas shoeboxes, but they all contain the gift of hope that can float a youngster's heart and vision above the dark watery ravages of their world -- a bit like Ivory Soap.
Shoeboxes will be collected in the Tri-Cities on Nov. 18-25 at Bethel Church, Richland; South Hills Church, Kennewick, and LaVilla Espresso on Road 68, Pasco.
For more information, go to www.samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child link.
-- Fay Tolley Smith is a member of the Tri-Cities Regional Operation Christmas Child Coordinating Team and attends South Hills Church in Kennewick. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.