WASHINGTON CITY — Although nobody knows where, somewhere on this planet a little boy will unwrap a Batman car this Christmas. And a 6-year-old boy from Southern Utah hopes the toy brings as much joy as he felt wrapping it.

Southland Bible Church youth group members packed and shipped 489 shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to children all over the world from Washington City, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo courtesy Bethanie Thompson, St. George News

Recently, the Southland Bible Church in Washington City held its third annual Christmas gift drive for Operation Christmas Child, a national nonprofit organization.

During the drive, essentials for hygiene, keeping warm and school supplies are gathered, as well as toys such as “wow items,” 9-year-old Sophie Thompson told St. George News.

Skilled packers from the church’s youth group, Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, chose from toothbrushes, soaps, school supplies and backpacks, Sophie said. But the best part of filling the shoebox-sized packages is the toy.

“I just like pretending that I am the person getting the gift,” she said. “So I am packing things that I want hoping they are the same age as me — and it will be a girl like me.”

Sophie’s little brother Shane Thompson said although he really liked the last box he packed, the one with the Batman car, he knew it would be going to someone who wanted it more.

“My favorite part was the last box when I did the Batman car, because it was really cool,” he said.

Children from the AWANA youth group at the Southland Bible Church pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child in Washington City, Utah, Nov. 16, 2023 | Photo courtesy Bethanie Thompson, St. George News

Bethanie Thompson helped to organize the event carried out by the youth group members ages preschool through sixth grade.

For this mission, she said the youth group established a goal of 350 shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child to be sent to third-world countries. And at the end of the day, 489 individual gifts were packed, wrapped and shipped.

“These kids have never received anything in their lives,” she said. “A lot of them have never even been told ‘I love you.’ To get a gift with no strings attached is just showing the love of Christ.”

More than 100 Washington County youth participated in fundraising, shopping, packing and wondering who might be receiving the gifts. Thompson said in total, about $3,500 was raised for the Christmas presents.

Southland Bible Church Pastor Nathan Reichert said the youth group of Washington County children is part of the national AWANA youth organization that reaches more than 4 million kids weekly in local churches across the country.

At a small church in Washington City, he said his hopes are that some of the laughter, smiles, songs and stories shared that day make the shoeboxes even better.

“It makes me really excited to see such young people really thinking about the world outside of just their local community,” Reichert said. “It makes me very excited for what they are going to do.”

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