Residents and Students pack over 800 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.

If you had peeked into the school gym on Wednesday evening, Nov. 14, you would have thought you were watching an anthill in action, but it was not a sporting event. It was a group of young people and older volunteers setting up for another type of event – a community service project that travels around the world.

First, the older boys’ youth group rolled out the mats to protect the gym floor, set up tables, and carried in a small mountain of stuff from vehicles, and piled it in the middle of the gym floor. As the boys left for supper, the Ground Zero Jr. High Youth Group arrived for the next phase. They immediately went to work distributing the goods to the appropriate tables and piling all the extra supplies on the stage.

One of the leaders remarked that seeing all the stuff and the kids in motion was a “sensory overload!”

Meanwhile, in the lunch room, there was another group of faithful volunteers who came to assemble the shoe boxes. I don’t even know who was there, because I was in the gym, but I am thankful for these people who come each year specifically to do this job. Before the evening was over, they had put together and stacked 530 boxes on the east wall of the gym.

Theresa Yentes (the Witthuhn kids’ grandmother) likes to come from Arizona to help with this project and see her grandkids. She tirelessly opened all the packages of school supplies and dumped them into containers. Shortly before 11:00 p.m., we decided to call it a night and go home knowing that we could finish in the morning.

Before school began on the 15th, tables were organized, trash emptied, volunteers arrived and we were ready. We looked up to find the 7th graders patiently waiting for us to let them start, and then we were off and running! Since they have packed shoeboxes for a few years now, these kids knew just what to do and got right to work even before our tables were fully staffed. Tammy Weinman went to the kindergarten room to explain to the little ones what they should expect when they came to pack.

Mr. Morgan does a great job of working out a packing schedule so that all the students get a turn to pack. He combines older grades with younger ones so the little students have help with their boxes.

We had new volunteers this year, and one of the things that impressed them most about the entire process was seeing the older students working so well with the younger students. It is fun to watch them work together, and it does your heart good to see it for yourself!  After working at the tables, and watching how it all works, this volunteer told me that although he had an idea what to expect because I’d explained it, he wasn’t prepared for the impact it had on him. He said, “We’ll be back to help again next year!”

The students were so efficient at filling boxes that at 10:00 o’clock we realized we weren’t going to have enough boxes to allow the later classes to get to participate. A quick phone call located a case of boxes in North Platte and a couple volunteers took off to get them. When those later classes came to pack boxes, they got to help assemble them before they could fill them. They seemed to enjoy the challenge of fitting them together, but it did slow down their packing.

All through the day, classes filed in, chose a gender and age group to pack for and then filled the boxes with a variety of gifts. If packed according to this year’s guidelines, each box would have had 17 or 18 items depending on size. The three categories are school supplies, hygiene items and fun stuff.

People were very generous this year and there was a wide variety of things from which to choose.

Grandparents came to pack boxes with their grandchildren. Young mothers brought their little ones to pack a gift. Homegrown Kids Day Care brought a group to get in on the fun, and they did a great job. Even our 18 month-old granddaughter and her older brother filled boxes before they headed home to Colorado proving that anyone can pack a shoebox!

More adults showed up to help at the end with packing all the filled boxes into cartons and loading them on the trailer. Amanda Fletcher and family took the load to North Platte for us, where they ended up unloading all of them by themselves. Thank you, Fletchers!!  That’s a big job.

Near the end of the party, we had run out of some supplies and the last boxes were too skimpy. We packed them into separate cartons, and then Alasha and I took to North Platte, shopped for the needed items, filled them and turned them in at the collection center.

When the dust settled, we were able to determine our final totals. We packed 582 boxes at the school, there were over 200-plus boxes at the Baptist Church and other community donations, so the final tally that I know of is 807 – 807! What a shock and wonderful surprise! Eight-hundred seven young children will receive gifts from Arnold, Nebraska. Well played, Arnold! That’s a new record and a job done well.

Thank you to everyone who helped in any way! I hope as you celebrated Thanksgiving that you considered the fact that we can be generous to others because we have been so generously blessed in our part of the world. I love our life in small town America, and especially in Arnold.

article by: Melody Jennings, OCC Organizer
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