GIVING New Life Baptist children learn first-hand about missions with a shoebox-packing party for Operation Christmas Child.































Balloons, toys and at least two dozen kids -- this had "birthday party" written all over it.





But at this celebration, the presents weren't on their way in -- they were being sent out.





Organized by the parents belonging to a Wednesday Bible study group at New Life Baptist Church, this was a Shoebox Stuffing Party to benefit Operation Christmas Child. The international ministry provides presents for needy kids across the globe, and the New Life kids party was part of an overall church effort pack 2005 boxes this year.





"This is our second year," said Vicky Berardi, mother of Trey, 8; Anthony, 7; and Sophia, 6. "Kids birthday parties are all about kids. We told our kids that instead, we were going to have a shoebox party in November.





"This is how we teach our kids about missions, and they get excited about it. It's amazing to see God move through these kids."





Although the entire church -- and the community as well -- is invited to participate by contributing gifts or money and involving their children, Berardi has a special set of rules for her threesome.





"My kids get an allowance, and they know that in addition to tithing, they're to take some of it to buy shoebox gifts," she said. "When we got to McDonald's and they get the toys that come with the meals, they give those. Their Halloween candy, they have to give out of that.





"And it's not just my kids, there are others who do it, too."





Berardi's son, Trey, admitted that sometimes giving up something that looks like a lot of fun is not so easy. He was especially taken with a Teen Titans clock that "has a button on the top and you press it to see what time it is. It's pretty nice."





"It's hard," Trey said, "but I decided to give it away because there are kids that don't get any presents."





Other kids echoed that sentiment as they roamed in and out of about 10 folding tables covered in small, gender- and age-appropriate gifts. These included such items as dolls, visors, T-shirts, hair bands, crayons, notebooks and hard candy.





On a short rise of steps behind all the activity, Morgan Atterholt and Josie Canon, both 7, appeared to be sitting amid the remains of a New Year's Eve Party, with pieces of paper scattered about them. In reality, they were hard at work cutting out the labels that would be put on each of the 143 boxes the children would end up packing.





"It's fun," Morgan said, noting she had donated some hair bands and books. "I like helping kids."





"Yeah, we love to do that," Josie agreed, "helping make kids happy."





Jocelyn Holt, 7, said she knows how she'd feel if she didn't get any presents for Christmas.





"Sad," she said. "That's why I want to help, so they'll be surprised."





And how will that make her feel?





"Happy," she beamed.





Jocelyn's mom, Stephanie, also is getting a kick out of the whole thing. Berardi's neighbor, she didn't learn about the about the party until just several weeks ago.





"So for the last month, I've been a woman on a mission," she said of her shopping efforts. "Because I got a late start this year, I was kind of forced to just give some money and then see what I could grab.





"Next year, it will be different. I'll have the whole year to shop. That will be great. Hey, I'm the clearance queen -- wherever there's a clearance rack, that's where you'll find me."



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