Flames danced in the glass pebbles of the fireplace in Hillcrest Lutheran Academy's Student Union while Christmas music rang out over the speakers. The entire student body blew in from the frosty Hillcrest campus on Wednesday, stomping cold feet and breathing into cupped hands to warm themselves. The students swarmed around a photo area to have pictures taken with their friends, pictures that would be printed to be placed inside boxes that read "Operation Christmas Child" as students participated in packing boxes for children in need.

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Individually or in pairs, the students filled empty red and green shoeboxes provided by Operation Christmas Child with toys and clothing as presents to be shipped around the world. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to impoverished children in 150 countries. Hillcrest is one of many partners that support the organization, totaling thousands of volunteers around the globe to prepare gift packages for students in foreign countries. This is Hillcrest's 2nd annual packing party, occurring during the school's Chapel period that involves the entire student body.

The selection on the gift-laden tables included dolls, soccer balls with pumps, reusable water bottles, and colorful cinch packs. Other tables were overflowing with bars of soap wrapped in washcloths, bright colored bandages, combs, hairbrushes, hair bands and beads. Still other tables held small stuffed animals, matchbox cars, bags of marbles, decks of playing cards, markers, crayons, notebooks, puzzles, and pencils. There were additional tables displaying socks and underwear, sandals, T-shirts, caps, and shorts.

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Students chose a gender and an age range (2-4, 5-9,10-14) to select items for, marking the age and gender for the specific boxes with little tags that looked like gift tags for Christmas present. Once the box was packed plumb-full with gifts, a personal touch was placed inside the box. Some students wrote notes with Bible verses and words of love. Others took pictures at a photo booth, writing favorite Bible passages on the back of the photo. Each box, hand-packed, was seen as a personal gift from a Hillcrest student to a specific individual. Hillcrest alumna Kirsten Langness, a representative from Operation Christmas Child, brought a greeting from the organization, sharing excitement as Hillcrest raised over $700 in addition to the gifts that were collected over the past months. 

After a festive-frenzied hour and a half, 142 boxes were piled onto a central table and the students gathered around to pray over the boxes and for the children who would soon enjoy them. Students lifted hands towards the boxes, with a group placing their hands on top of the pile, while Chapel coordinator Ryan Garvin closed the prayer asking for safety, peace, and a focus on Christ for the recipients of the special Christmas boxes that will be packed-up and shipped around the world in the coming months

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