By Sharon Mager
BOWIE, Md.—Ann Gardiner loves packing boxes for Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child each holiday season. In fact, 92-year-old Ann packed a whopping 142 boxes this year. Her husband, Ed, helps out by driving Ann around to various stores to buy the goodies for each box. Ed and Ann, who attend First Baptist Church of Crofton, Md., have been married for 73 years.
She started packing the boxes in 2000 when a friend, Judy, introduced the program at Bel Air Baptist Church, where the couple attended for many years. The church had recently started a seniors’ program, and the boxes were a perfect outreach for the group. They also enjoyed packing the boxes together.
Ann filled 17 boxes the first year she participated. The following year she almost doubled that number. But it was the “challenge” that spurred her on to go way above and beyond. When Ann brought her boxes in on the collection day that second year, one woman smiled coyly and said, “We had a bet you were going to do 100!”
“And I thought, why not?” If I start right after Christmas, I could do 10 each month then I’d have 100. It got easier and easier,” Ann said.
She doesn’t use the Samaritan’s Purse boxes; instead, she buys photo boxes, which are a little bigger, but still qualify.
“I start with a wash cloth and soap,” she said, explaining her technique for filling the boxes. “A ruler goes under the washcloth. Then, depending on the age, I get school supplies. For the older ones I get spiral notebooks, and a pencil box. I fill the box with pencils, pens, erasers and pencil sharpeners,” she said. She even goes the extra mile and tests each sharpener.
“Then I get to the goodies!” she said with a shy smile. Boys get at least one, if not more, vehicles—toy cars and trucks. Girls get jewelry, hair barrettes, sewing kits, cosmetics and dolls. Almost all get a stuffed animal and t-shirt. Sometimes she makes theme boxes, like a farm box with a toy cow, pig, horse, mule and dog. There are crayons, cards and whistles. They’re very whimsical.
The boxes are literally filled to the brim. She’s an expert, knowing just how to position the items so she can stuff the maximum amount in each container. Ann described how she once had a fabulous stuffed monkey that she didn’t think she’d be able to stuff in the box, but, lo and behold, she managed it.
For years, Ann not only stuffed the boxes, but also wrapped the tops. That became difficult for her recently but she still lovingly decorates each box. They’re all different. Each is a unique work of art. She regularly sifts through magazines looking for fun pictures for the boxes. Some are decorated with animal pictures, some with toys, clowns or other fun photos.
Anne Sibthorp, the couple’s niece, said the Gardiners save and collect coupons to use to help defray the cost “so they can buy more things to put in the boxes and also to buy the best quality that they can.”
These boxes are a considerable investment of time and money, and they do it all gladly and generously to bring the Christ of Christmas to as many children as possible, Sibthorp said.
Preparing the boxes is an outreach ministry for Ann Gardiner. She works on them all year and the stack grows day by day. “I pray over the boxes every night. I pray that each box goes to just the right person,” she said.
Ann grew up in a Christian home, and her mother led the children in evening prayers, bowing on their knees at bedtime. Her mom died when Ann was just eight years old, but the prayer habit continued.
She said she doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t know Jesus. Both in their early teens, Ann and her sister, Dorothy, went forward together, both declaring their commitment to Christ during a revival service.
“My dad loved revivals. He had a truck, and he’d fill the back with straw, and we’d get in and go to the revivals.
Through the years, Ann taught babies, children and teens in Sunday school and in Vacation Bible School. She continued teaching until her eyesight began to dim and her hearing was strained but she still had the desire to do ministry.
Samaritan’s Purse is giving Ann the chance to keep going, reaching out to people in the name of Jesus.