Maeve Ryan has always been a philanthropist. She’s also an athlete, a dancer, and…a fourth grader.
This youngster is responsible for bringing the charitable project Operation Christmas Child to her Country Club elementary school.
Operation Christmas Child provides gifts to needy children all over the world as a venture of humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse.
The idea is to fill a shoe box with anything that will fit inside it that a child may need or enjoy – for example small toys, toiletries, school supplies, or books.
Eight-year old Maeve has partaken in this charity her entire life thanks to her family’s tradition of helping those less fortunate, but it was her idea to expand the project to her school, Villa Maria Academy.
Marianne Ryan, Maeve’s mother said that her daughter was in kindergarten packing a shoebox around the holidays, when she asked her mother “Why can’t we do this at school?”
Shortly after, Ryan approached the principal of Villa Maria, Sister Teresa Barton, with the proposition. “She offered to do it one time as a trial to see how it went…and obviously it went pretty well,” said Ryan.
Four years later, the event has become a tremendous success.
In the event’s first year, 125 goodie-filled- boxes were shipped off to children between the ages of 2 to 14 around the globe. This past November, Maeve’s annual drive donated 480 boxes.
The shoe-box packing event itself takes place at Villa Maria in November of each year. Two large long tables are lined with children preparing shoe-boxes to send to kids who might otherwise have nothing to open on Christmas.
Parents donate small items and the kids often make cards in class to send along inside their boxes with drawings of their palms and a note saying, “If you put your hand on my hand we’re holding hands.” Ryan describes the event as “absoulte chaos and so much fun”.
The project moves up each year with Maeve’s class.
Family, friends and neighbors also donate to the cause with boxes and donations which Maeve assists with by providing boxes and collecting them for delivery at her “Operation Christmas Child Headquarters” also known as the Ryan household.
Maeve has brought the tradition to her Junior Girl Scout troop, as well as to Jeanne Jugan nursing home – It’s definitely a group effort.
“We have families that deliver 15 to 20 boxes each year… we have families that collect stuff to give away all year. Its such an incredible tradition,” said Ryan.
Maeve has become so involved with the organization that she even went to its distribution center in Charlotte, NC where she and her family helped to check and make sure the boxes had enough inside of them and that the toys and gifts were appropriate.
For example, since so many of the receipiants are children in war-torn countries, no war-related toys are allowed to be packed.
Many of the boxes sent to OCC come from poor areas.
“Some boxes only had a few things inside such as half a coloring book because the family split it” said Ryan. The year after Hurricane Sandy hit the East coast, nearly 60,000 full boxes were donated to OCC by areas most effected by the storm.
These boxes were then sent by special airlift directly to the young boys and girls who were impacted by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Then-first- grader Maeve was invited to the JFK airlift where she met Franklin Graham, founder of Operation Christmas Child.
How can you send a shoe-box to a child in need?
Although the collection week is usually the third week of November, people who want to get involved can pack a shoe-box online to send to a child anytime throughout the year.
It’s also never too early to start collecting gifts for next year’s Christmas season.
As for Maeve’s drive, it only seems to be getting bigger and better.
“We’d like to go to little churches within Throggs Neck and ask them if they’d like to get involved,” said Ryan.