RICHLAND — It's hard to imagine a child in America sobbing for joy over something so simple as to be handed a pencil, a toothbrush or a booklet of Bible stories.
But Tricia MacFarlan of Richland has seen it happen time after time in Honduras.
She witnessed it most recently in late February when she and 80 other Operation Christmas Child volunteers visited the country. They were there to hand out shoeboxes filled with small gifts to the country's poorest citizens: its children.
Inside the boxes were toys, school supplies, toiletries, candy, and yes, a book of Bible stories.
"It's amazing to see how a simple thing like a pencil or a toothbrush will bring kids to tears. The impact of something that means virtually nothing to us, things our kids have in abundance, is everything to these kids," MacFarlan said.
"They can hardly fathom that inside those boxes is something just for them. I saw child after child take out the toothbrush, then tuck it safe back inside and hug the box to their chests," she said.
"These are children who have never had a gift, never had anything they could call their own. Some don't even have parents, they're cared for by older siblings. I've seen kids living in cardboard boxes on the muddy banks of the river," she said.
The gift distributions are done at churches, orphanages and schools. MacFarlan's group handed out about 1,200 boxes during the week they spent in Honduras.
"Which, for that country, is just a drop in a bucket," she said.
The project is called Operation Christmas Child because whenever the children receive their box, that's Christmas for them, she said.
MacFarlan is the area coordinator for the Southeast Washington-Northeast Oregon region for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan's Purse, a worldwide evangelical aid organization. It's a volunteer position, and she's worked for it for 17 years.
Ask MacFarlan how she became involved and she says, "God put Operation Christmas Child in front of my face."
In the early 1990s, she bought her children a Christmas storybook called Miracle in a Shoebox written by Franklin Graham and Estelle Condra. Graham works for Samaritan's Purse and helps oversee and organize Operation Christmas Child worldwide.
The authors had written how one of the Operation Christmas Child boxes went from the hands of a 9-year-old American boy to Bosnia, where it was given to Lejla Allison. Inside was a pair of shoes, exactly what she had been praying for.
"It was so beautiful, and the message so simple, so soul grabbing. ... I still tear up just talking about it," MacFarlan said.
MacFarlan joined as a volunteer and enlisted her family, friends and fellow members of Bethel Church to help her fill 40 shoeboxes. Soon she discovered other churches, clubs, Scouts and schools were all packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
"Now there are almost 200 individuals and groups in our region alone filling boxes with donated items," she said.
Businesses also help. Both Life Care Centers in the Tri-Cities have been involved for a decade, and Oak Harbor Freight has hauled the boxes to the collection center in Seattle for years.
MacFarlan's job is to coordinate all these different groups and people and help spread the word about Operation Christmas Child.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org