For Rita Bice, a childhood spent in Germany just after World War II was not pleasant.
“I did not have anything,” Bice said. “I know what it is like to want and never get.”
That is why the 78-year-old Columbus woman is so passionate about Operation Christmas Child.
A project of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization under the leadership of Franklin Graham, each year collects shoe boxes full of items for disadvantaged children in this country and delivers them to more than 100 countries worldwide.
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The charity uses the project not just to help needy children but for parents to teach their children about giving.
Numerous churches in the area are involved. Bice mentioned Gentian Baptist Church as one Columbus distribution center. Collection begins the week before Thanksgiving.
Most boxes are filled with small items such as combs, toy jewelry, brushes and pens, but that is not enough for Bice, who shops throughout the year for gifts. Items in one of her boxes might have a total value of up to $50.
When was asked to speak to a group about how to pack a shoe box for less than $5, she refused, saying, “Many of the children receiving the shoebox gifts have never received a gift. When a child opens the shoe box I want him or her to be thrilled with the contents.”
Standing by a collection of stuffed animals, shoes and caps on a dining room table, Bice said she does not want a child who has prayed for a gift to open up a box and find “trinkets or some cheap toy that will not last.”
Items are collected and packed in November, but Bice is constantly shopping.
“I go to stores not planning to buy anything but if I see something on sale, I just have to get it,” she said.
Regular shoe boxes will not contain much of what she gets.
“I have to get really big ones for items such as dolls and balls,” she said.
She has friends over for box-packing parties.
Bice prays that she selects the right items, and she prays that each box goes to the right child.
“A child in Africa does not need a wool cap,” she said. “God knows whose ears are cold.”
Bice, the mother of two children, Marcus Bice and Barbara Wood, has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for about 20 years.
The native of Mannheim, Germany, has been a widow since 1999 when her husband, retired 1st Sgt. Cecil Bice, a Vietnam veteran, died from cancer.
Bice met him in Germany, where she was working for the U.S. Government. She would later do civil service work at Fort Benning.
She never gets to see a child open one of her boxes but she sees pictures in the organization’s publications.
“I can imagine what it is like for a child to be praying for a pair of shoes who opens up a box and finds some that fit. What joy that must be. Knowing that happens brings a lot of joy to me,” she said.
It is not the only charitable work in which Bice is involved.
At Edgewood Baptist Church, she is a volunteer with Meals On Wheels, delivering food prepared from Feeding the Valley to shut-ins.
“A lot of those people just can’t get out. Some can’t walk,” she said. “They are always glad to see me and I have become very attached to some of them.”
She would like to see more people get involved with projects such as Operation Christmas Child.
“Whatever you do get involved with, you have to do it with your whole heart,” Bice said. “That makes a difference.”