Student Life

Donors and families are big OCC contributors

By Hanah Kerrigan | July 29, 2023
OCC Packing Party 2022

“Seeing that smile on their face when they open that box and seeing soap and a stuffed animal…it’s like hitting gold,” said Laurie Diel.

Operation Christmas Child brings joy to thousands of kids during the holiday season when they see that red and green box arrive. Each year, many of the boxes include great items from t-shirts and bags to puzzles and schoolbooks, giving them not only fun items to pass the time but essential items and material to contribute to their education.

While individual students contribute a lot to these items, the Operation Christmas Child that CSU has come to know wouldn’t be possible without the help of donors. There are currently somewhere between 25 and 30 companies and organizations that donate to CSU’s Operation Christmas Child. While most put donation boxes out to contribute to the project, there are some who go above and beyond when it comes to donations.

One of these organizations, and CSU’s biggest OCC donor, is the Cooper River Bridge Run. The organization donates hundreds of shirts to the operation every year. They also, when available, contribute drawstring bags as well. The total of their donation this past year was roughly $81,000 worth of these items. 

OCC Packing Party 2022

Irv Batten, race director of the Cooper River Bridge Run, is a 1986 CSU alum, making the contribution especially meaningful. The partnership formed in 2020 when the Bridge Run was looking for new ways to contribute to the community. Batten, who was already involved with volunteer work for CSU’s track and cross country programs, heard about OCC and, with his team, determined this was a great way to get the organization further involved.

“Our mission is to promote health and wellness, and what better way to promote wellness than Operation Christmas Child?” he says. The Cooper River Bridge Run continues to donate every year for this reason and because of the effect OCC has on the community. Batten also says that he wishes to continue this every year to further give back to CSU, as he is constantly striving to do.

Another significant donor to OCC is PetSmart. Every year, they sell stuffed animals to donate to the boxes, and this past year’s contribution was worth $35,000. There are five locations in the Charleston area, and all five contribute to the operation. CSU has been selected from several applicants every year since 2020.

The journey to the partnership began after an OCC trip to Trinidad and Tobago in 2019. After seeing the kids’ faces light up at the sight of the soft toys from other branches of OCC, Laurie Diel, head of CSU’s OCC program, told herself she was going to set out on a mission to get better quality stuffed animals for CSU’s boxes. After much searching and praying, God provided exactly what she was searching for; she received a call from PetSmart offering her leftover toys from the Toys for Tots donations. Diel arrived ecstatic but expecting the donation to consist of dog toys and similar playthings. She was amazed once she found out these leftovers turned out to be large, soft, quality stuffed animals and amounted to more than CSU could pack in the donation boxes that year.

This surprise is one many people face when hearing about donations to OCC at the stores. “Many people are surprised when we ask them about donating to children in a pet store,” says one manager of the Summerville location. “But it’s a win-win for all parties involved. The toys are going towards a great cause, and PetSmart receives a portion of the profits to go towards our own charities as well.” The stores have continued to partner with OCC because it’s something the store and customers enjoy donating to. The employees of each store even have a competition to see who can sell the most stuffed animals.

OCC Packing Party 2022

Store manager Steve of the Dorchester Road location put it best by saying “it’s a great way to give back to the community.” PetSmart was looking for a business partner to benefit not only their own charities but to give back to the community as well. They were already partnered with the Marines’ Toys for Tots program prior to the call in 2020, but Steve points out there are some irregularities from season to season and sometimes even week to week; inconsistencies which led to issues like the stuffed animal surplus that began OCC’s journey with PetSmart. While discussing the impact he’s been happy to be a part of, he says, “There’s something about Operation Christmas Child…they’re consistent. They get it right.”

Diel also highly praised Extra Room Storage for their contribution. With so many stuffed animals being donated to the operation, there’s never enough space for them to all be held on campus. Extra Room Storage was kind enough to donate a space to CSU to store these stuffed animals until the next OCC season. This kind action is the equivalent of a $40,000 donation to the project every year.

Having donors like this every year “helps showcase CSU,” Diel says. “OCC shows the essence of what we are with learning, faith integration, and service.” Having companies and organization that are willing to contribute so much to the operation shows off CSU’s students, faculty, volunteers, and the impact our values have on community.

Diel is thankful to not only the donors of the project but also to her family in their contribution to OCC. She and her family were involved in Operation Christmas Child through her church when she was a child, and they’ve all continued to be a part of it since. 

Diel’s mother works on the campus year-round to organize the OCC area and donations; ever since reaching the first record-breaking number of 5,249 boxes in 2019, keeping up with it all has become a year-long process. She, along with Diel’s father, children, and husband help pack the boxes every year during the packing party. 

“It feels like they work here,” said Diel, reflecting on the help she gets with OCC from her family. “It means a lot because it shows they support what we do here.” It’s something that she and her family look forward to every year since that first winning year in 2019 because it felt good being a part of a “winning team,” especially seeing the difference it makes to pack that many boxes for children in need.

OCC Packing Party 2022

“The human mind and heart want to get behind something great,” Diel said. “Going on the trips and seeing the effect it has really makes it.” It’s not something that would be possible without the contributions of OCC’s donors and the great people who take the time to help with this operation. To be able to make a difference like CSU is in the community and beyond is what the school stands for, and is something we will continue to stand for, especially as we once again hold the title for most packed boxes this season.

2022 CSU total: 13,019
4th year in a row as university packing the most boxes

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