Sending smiles to children in need

The Spectrum

This holiday season, malls will be crowded with people running around buying gifts for friends, family and significant others. But not everyone will share in the joy of unwrapping presents surrounded by loved ones - there are some children who have never had the opportunity.

Students at UB are changing that.

Brothers And Sisters in Christ (BASIC), a Student Association club, is involved with Operation Christmas Child. The club's goal is to provide gifts for underprivileged children who live in third-world countries every year during the holiday season.

Operation Christmas Child began as a part of the philanthropic organization Samaritan's Purse in 1990 when founders Dave and Jill Cooke were watching news broadcasts of orphans in Romania. They wanted to reach out and help the children, who in their eyes are were the real victims of the conditions in Romania at the time. They filled nine trucks with supplies, food, clothing and gifts and presented them to children in Romania.

Since then, more than 61 million shoe boxes have been delivered to over 135 countries, according to the group's website.

BASIC wants to raise these numbers.

"It's a really awesome cause, and being able to change a child's life for Christmas while only spending $15 to $20 on a college budget is the best thing about it," said Eric Ennis, a senior environmental design major and BASIC's vice president. "College students get a chance to make a global impact and change someone's life without having to spend that much money."

Operation Christmas Child is one of the easiest ways for students to give back this Christmas holiday, according to Ennis. The first step is to purchase the gifts. Ennis encourages students who want to participate to go out to CVS on campus or the dollar store to pick something out.

From there, students can come with their gifts Friday, Nov. 16 to Knox Hall, room K4. They can join BASIC and help package the gifts in the shoeboxes being provided.

Students may include a variety of items in the shoeboxes. Some acceptable gifts include but are not limited to: soap, crayons, coloring books, stuffed animals or any luxury item children may not have in third-world countries.

However, there are certain things that are not acceptable to send. Gifts such as perishable items, war toys or any hazardous material cannot be packaged. But hard candy such as Jolly Ranchers is acceptable, according to Ennis.

Operation Christmas Child has made an impact on many different nations around the world. The program has sent shoeboxes to Haiti during the earthquake disaster, areas in Africa like Sudan and Kenya, China and many other countries, according to Ennis.

"Usually when [Samaritan's Purse] delivers the boxes, they'll talk to the children about the story of Jesus and explain the meaning of Christmas, because some of the kids have never heard of Jesus, so it's an opportunity to educate them on Jesus as well," Ennis said.

One of BASIC's main goals is to continue its contribution to Operation Christmas Child every year. Members want to increase the involvement of UB students with the program and increase the number of shoe boxes sent out every year.

"We are a Christian club, but this event is open to everyone and even at BASIC we welcome everyone and people from any religion," Ennis said. "We want to get a diverse body of students and get everyone to be a part of a good cause."

Ennis is not new to Operation Christmas Child; he knows the importance of giving back. He's been involved with the program for the past 10 years. He has continued to do his part throughout his colege career as well.

"Our club really wants to promote the growth of Operation Christmas Child and give students an opportunity to be a part of something big," Ennis said. "It's an amazing feeling knowing that you spending so little goes a long way and you can just picture the kids opening the box and the happiness you're bringing to them."