Christmas came a little late – or a lot early – for a Crook County 4-H’er who last year coordinated efforts to fill more than 600 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Grace Anderson, 15, of Devils Tower was selected as a Wyoming Top High School Honoree for The Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. She is the daughter of Gary and Zeta Anderson.
4-H is the youth arm of University of Wyoming Extension, and its state offices are in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is a program run by Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. The boxes contain toys, school supplies, hygiene items, and crafts separated into age-appropriate items to children ages 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14 in third-world countries, war zones, and areas hit by natural disasters.
Anderson, a sophomore at Wyoming Virtual Academy, had packed shoeboxes with her family for several years but decided in 2014 to have OCC as a part of her Family Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) project.
“I wanted to fill 100 shoeboxes and got pushback from people who said there was no way to collect that many,” says Anderson, a member of the Rimrock Riders 4-H Club. “We ended up with 256, which was super cool.”
A newspaper article helped spread the information, Anderson wrote a skit for a school assembly explaining OCC, and a packing party completed the project.
She was elected an FCCLA district officer in 2015 and decided to pack OCC shoeboxes for her workshop at the organization’s fall conference. She sent emails to all the Wyoming chapters asking members to bring items to the conference in Casper.
The FCCLA conference was in October, but OCC collections didn’t begin until late November. Anderson had met a woman during a summer church camp who knew about OCC and whose family operated a storage unit business in Casper. She offered to provide a storage unit at no cost to house the shoeboxes until they could be taken to the drop off location in November.
In all, 368 shoeboxes were filled at the fall conference, and Anderson’s FCCLA chapter later filled 117. Community members and 4-H clubs around Crook County filled more shoeboxes.
“Everything fell into place. It was perfect,” Anderson says.
She believes her determination to reach her goals has affected other youths.
“I think a lot of kids saw how much potential there is when you trust your dreams and go for it,” she says.
She adds she feels blessed.
“God has been good, allowing me to be his worker and doing this project and helping out so many kids around the world,” says Anderson. “I love working with the kids. It’s been a blessing doing this project.”
Anderson and her mother, Zeta, will travel to Washington, D.C., in early May to meet the other 101 state honorees and participate in four days of recognition events.