Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20)
By Hadley Montgomery
For the past 12 years, Penny Cowan, duPont Library’s director of collections management, and her family have been involved with the Operation Christmas Child program. Operation Christmas Child is run through Samaritan’s Purse, whose mission statement establishes them as “a nondenominational evangelical organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.”
Operation Christmas Child is a program that sends shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in need throughout the world. The Cowan family began their passion for the organization by filling four boxes; however, Cowan notes that word of mouth started spreading and the operation soon became too big for their house. Thus, the family moved the operation to different locations on Sewanee’s campus.
“Both of my sons went to school here and when one of my sons went here, we started reaching out to different student groups. We had Alpha Phi Omega and the Kappa Alphas, they were the first two groups on board after the CRU group,” said Cowan.
In each of the boxes, there is a pair of shoes, a clothing item, school supplies, hygiene items, and what Cowan calls, “a wow item.” A “wow item” is a stuffed animal, a ball, a sewing kit, a toolkit, or any other special item.
Everything the Cowan family sends in the shoeboxes is brand new because “we want to make sure what we give to these children is what we would give to our children,” she explained.
The Cowan family’s dedication to this project means that her “family buys all of the materials that go in the boxes. That’s our chosen ministry. My sister and mother shop with me.” The family shops throughout the year to accumulate all of the items for the shoeboxes, and shopping for next year will begin right after Thanksgiving. The Cowan family recently moved, and upon arrival at the new home, Cowan promptly asked for an Operation Christmas Child storage building in their backyard.
The only part of the boxes not paid for by the Cowan family involves the shipping costs. The family finds different ways to fundraise for these costs, including support from groups on campus. Once the shipping is paid for, the boxes can be tracked online and Cowan is notified of where the boxes go around the world.
Although the Cowan family buys the items for the boxes, Cowan noted that packing the boxes would be much more difficult without help from Sewanee students. Many of Cowan’s family reunions surround the packing or making of the boxes; however, a majority of the work for this year has been done throughout the past week by Sewanee students.
Addison Jones (C’18), the community service chair for IFC, said, “IFC/ISC committed ourselves this year to helping reach the goal of packing 1,000 boxes for operation Christmas child. I know of several organizations that had a majority of their members pack boxes for a few hours throughout the week. It has been a great way to bring the Greek community together in an effort to give back.”
Through the help of volunteers on campus, Cowan says the goal this year was 1,000 boxes, and they packed a total of 1,050 boxes, up from the 500 boxes that were packed last year. Although this goal was much higher, Cowan said that at the end of the day, it is worth all of the hard work and “knowing these kids are going to get something bright and cheerful and new. To know that people haven’t forgotten them if they are in really bad situations.”