Ed Gardiner of Bowie said his wife, Ann, has a problem: She can’t stop giving, and it’s getting worse.
For the past 13 years, Ann Gardiner, 90, has made holiday shoe boxes filled with gifts for children in need in developing countries. She made 11 boxes the first year, 17 the second and 42 the third. This year, she made 152, Ed Gardiner said.
“We set the limit to 143 this year. Then she says, ‘I’m just going to do four more.’ I said, ‘OK, but that’s it,’” he said, laughing. “But then she does four more. I’m putting my foot down!”
The colorfully designed boxes were stacked on the Gardiners’ living room floor in the home they’ve lived in for 50 years on Belair Drive. The boxes were filled with stuffed toys, pencils, notebooks, soap, flashlights and games.
The Gardiners have spent about $1,000 this year on shoe box gifts, which they’ve been collecting almost every day since September, keeping an eye on sales at arts and crafts stores, said Ed Gardiner, 91.
The shoe boxes are part of a national donation program, Operation Christmas Child. It is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian nonprofit based in North Carolina that provides domestic disaster relief and international humanitarian aid, said Ashley Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit group.
The nonprofit, founded in 1970, began Operation Christmas Child 20 years ago. Volunteers, using their own money, decorate and fill shoe boxes with school supplies, personal hygiene items and toys, which then are shipped to children in more than 100 countries, Wilkes said.
The boxes are collected at sites across the nation, mainly at churches, from Nov. 18 through Nov. 25, and taken to eight regional processing centers. The boxes are inspected, then shipped internationally around Dec. 17.
Volunteers must put $7 in each box to cover shipping, costing the Gardiners another $1,000 this year, Ed Gardiner said.
Last year, the 100 millionth shoe box was shipped, as Operation Christmas Child marked its 20th anniversary, Wilkes said.
The Gardiners married 70 years ago. Ann Gardiner said she spent most of her younger life raising their only son.
Later, she volunteered as a Bible study and Sunday school teacher. As she got older and her hearing failed, she stopped teaching — but her love for children remained, she said.
Ann Gardiner heard about Operation Christmas Child when members of her former church, Belair Baptist, began making boxes as a group in 2000. The effort fizzled out a few years later, but Ann Gardiner kept going.
“[Operation Christmas Child] was something I could still do with children,” she said, adding that she plans to keep making boxes every year.
“As long as I can still get up and down the stairs, and [Ed] can still drive,” she said. “If people try it, they won’t want to stop.”
For more information on Operation Christmas Child, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child.