Christmas at a Union University Fraternity

Nov 22, 2002 03:00 AM EST

JACKSON, Tenn—A heartwarming event touches the heart of the tornado stricken University town. The fraternity house, Alpha Tau Omega resumes its "Operation Christmas Child," gathering together shoebox filled gifts for needy children.

The Nov 10 Tornado that swept through the town put a tree through the roof and caused interior damage to the house. Couches remain littered with broken glass, and where there once was a door, now remains a piece of plywood nailed to the wall.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the wreckage, brightly colored green and red shoeboxes are stacked up at one side of the main room. Piling five feet high, three feet deep, and across the width of the wall, these presents will soon be delivered to children as part of the worldwide Operation Christmas Child ministry for needy children across the world, sponsored Samaritan's Purse.

Last year Alpha Tau Omega collected more than 1,800 boxes in cooperation with area churches -- this year the goal is at least 2,500.

"Even though our house is out of order, the importance and impact Operation Christmas Child can make remains the same," said fraternity member Brian Curtis, a Christian studies major.

Only in their second year helping with the Christmas ministry, the young men could easily have chosen to focus on repairing their house before the rapidly approaching end to the semester. All agreed, though, that their misfortune is minimal in light of conditions confronting children around the world.

"The tragedy that's happened to us is nothing in comparison to what these children face on a day-to-day basis," said Derek Jones, a junior family studies major. "The poverty, the sickness and suffering they're experiencing -- even though we've had this disaster happen to us, we have so much we can still give."

From across west Tennessee, shoeboxes dropped off by churches and individuals at the LifeWay Christian Store on Union's campus are being stored at the ATO house until Nov. 23, when all of the gifts will be taken to a drop-off point in Memphis.

More than 6 million children on six continents will receive gift-filled shoeboxes this year as part of Operation Christmas Child, the world's largest children's Christmas project. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has hand-delivered more than 18 million shoebox gifts via plane, boat, helicopter, even donkey and dog sled to children suffering from disease, war, terrorism, natural disaster, poverty and famine.

Said Curtis, "When you think about the number of times a simple shoebox leads to salvation because of the Christian literature that's in each one and they're all hand-delivered, it's engrained in us as Union students that as Christians we are to help people.

"As college students, we can't give a lot but we all have shoeboxes."

By Pauline J.