Yokota volunteers send joy to the world

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High school students craft Christmas gifts for children as part of Operation Christmas Child at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Nov. 2, 2016. Gifts sent through OCC travel to disadvantaged children throughout the world and are a popular way to give back during the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker/Released)
High school students craft Christmas gifts for children as part of Operation Christmas Child at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Nov. 2, 2016. Gifts sent through OCC travel to disadvantaged children throughout the world and are a popular way to give back during the holiday season. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker/Released)

Yokota volunteers send joy to the world

by: Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker, 374th Airlift Wing, Public Affairs | .
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published: November 29, 2016

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Yokota Air Base has proven to be a force for good in a variety of ways, from performing disaster relief, to contributing donations to air-dropping Christmas gifts in the Pacific islands. Yet, it’s not only our hard-working airlifters who are making an impact during the season of giving. One Yokota mother-daughter duo has made it their mission to help brighten Christmas for hundreds of less fortunate children around the world by sending gifts through Operation Christmas Child.

On its webpage, Operation Christmas Child describes itself as the world's largest Christmas project. The project brings joy and hope to children around the world through gift-filled shoe. Since 1993, more than 100 million shoe box gifts have been delivered to children in more than 130 countries.

Drew Jernigan, a Yokota spouse, and her daughter, Emma Grace, saw an opportunity to jump on board with a charitable project and give back. The Jernigans get as many people involved as possible. They have been increasing their numbers of contributors over the years and this year they sent out about 300 boxes.

The duo spend all year collecting items to pack in special OCC shoe boxes. In November they gather gift donations and organize parties to craft gifts and pack boxes. Children and adults of all ages pitch in to craft and pack.

Jernigan explained the process behind packing a box.

“The first thing we want them to see is a ‘wow’ item,” Jernigan said. “That’s something that will get the kid excited and make them say ‘wow’ when they first open up the box. It may be a ball or a stuffed animal or a doll.”

Other items in the box include school supplies, hygiene items and candy.

“Everyone benefits from this program,” Jernigan said. “We love being able to give and the kids are receiving things that they may not be able to get in their country. We take a lot of things for granted, like soap, toothpaste and toys.”

The Jernigans and other volunteers load the boxes up in a van and deliver them to Shinjuku, Tokyo where they are then delivered to Sindai, Miyagi Prefecture, and then out to the world.

This year Jernigan said that she expects the boxes from Yokota to deliver to the Philippines.

Sometimes the boxes’ stories make it back to the senders. Lyn Goot, a Yokota spouse, is originally from the Philippines. After the 2015 OCC gift delivery, Goot received word from her former pastor that a particular Filipino village had received gifts for the first time. The villagers, who make their living by selling banana leaves, live in a remote mountain location which is difficult to access.

“To me the fact that they got gifts was a huge deal,” Goot said. “Some of the villagers there have leprosy so a lot of people don’t go there. It means a lot to them that people sent gifts. They feel that somebody cares for them, people they don’t even know. Imagine the joy on their faces.”

Goot hopes that OCC will continue to expand and reach more remote locations.

Anyone who would like to get involved with OCC may visit their website to find out how to pack a box online or at home, track a box’s delivery or volunteer in other ways.

Filipino children receive Christmas gifts from donors through Operation Christmas Child. (Courtesy photo)

Tags: Yokota Air Base, News
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