Letter: Perhaps it’s time to reconsider Operation Christmas Child

A few facts to ponder

To the Expositor:

It’s that time of year again, when families and churches gather together to pack shoeboxes, destined for “poor” children overseas. While this may seem like a generous and well-intentioned campaign, it is perhaps more problematic than one would expect. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage folks who are considering participating in this year’s campaign to first learn a little bit more about it and maybe even consider supporting an alternative cause instead. 

Some of the major issues with Operation Christmas Child and the organization that runs it (Samaritan’s Purse) include: 

Samaritan’s Purse current president, Franklin Graham, has been openly xenophobic, homophobic and racist in speeches made to the public. 

Because each box is filled by individual donors, not all children receive the same quality of box, and this can create conflict between children when they open their gifts. 

Many of the items are just not appropriate (e.g. children in warm/wet climates receiving clothing like socks or mittens, or children in communities where Western toys are not culturally significant receiving cheap plastic toys that they may not understand how to use). 

The influx of Western goods can undermine local businesses and artisans, who are then unable to sell their products. 

The program teaches children that the primary problem of poverty is not enough “stuff”, which is a consumerist view that does not consider the systemic issues and colonial history underpinning global poverty, or the impact of too much “stuff” on the environment. 

The carbon footprint for shipping the large number of shoeboxes internationally is not insignificant, and the amount of small plastic trinkets contained in the boxes contributes to the problem of global plastic waste, often inundating areas without sufficient recycling infrastructure with plastic waste that they cannot effectively manage. 

Shoeboxes are distributed at “outreach events”, along with conversion-focused Christian literature, and children are encouraged to attend a program for further conversion. Regardless of one’s opinion of evangelism, it is inauthentic for Samaritan’s Purse to advertise their campaign as one of gift-giving and charity when it is, in fact, at its core an evangelical conversion campaign. Ultimately, the program is exploitative, drawing families in with the promise of gifts, and then pressuring those same families to convert to a particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity. 

To quote Joelle McNamara, founder of Badala, “Being generous requires us to dedicate profound thought to what the person receiving our generosity actually needs. [Operation Christmas Child] is a large-scale expression of generosity that has failed to listen and learn what truly gives life to people in need.” 

Overall, there are many issues with the Operation Christmas Child campaign that should not be overlooked by its supporters. I would encourage individuals to do their own reading and learn more about the program before participating. As an alternative, I suggest reaching out to local organizations like Manitoulin Family Resources to ask how you can support them this holiday season. They might even welcome you donating a box of items to a local person or family in need. 

Vanessa Glasby

Little Current