Jaki Steward Hernandez was born in Guatemala to a young mother who brought her to a cramped and overwhelmed orphanage when she was only a few months old. Jaki rarely had anything she could call her own. Sharing a room with twelve other girls, she learned how to protect what little she had. One December, when Jaki was five, she and the children in her orphanage received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. For the first time, all the children had toys to play with, and they all had things they could call their own.
Today, Jaki is married and living in Easton with her husband Eduardo. She works at Garden Treasures in Easton. This is the third year she has been a National Spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child, traveling to 25 states speaking to churches, schools, and community organizations and being interviewed by radio and television stations across the country about her experience.
What was special about receiving an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox when you were in the orphanage in Guatemala?
It was amazing at age five to know that strangers would take the time to pack this box and didn’t even know me. Getting my first toothbrush knowing I wouldn’t have to share it with 10 girls. Plus, ultimately knowing that the song “Jesus Loves Me” came to life for me with the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox. Some other favorite items in the box were stuffed animals to hug after receiving hugs from the missionaries who visited us and coloring books and crayons where I didn’t leave one ounce of white paper showing. It was when I received the shoebox that the seed of hope was planted in my life.
Why are you a spokesperson for Operation Christmas now in your life?
It is an opportunity to give back to the ministry that impacted my life at such a young age. I love packing shoeboxes now. The boxes I send are always a pink explosion — everything is pink (my favorite color!) Meeting volunteers from across the country who make this ministry possible has been very rewarding. It’s humbling no matter where I go, I meet people who have been to Guatemala on mission trips or who are going there in the future. The world gets even smaller when there is that connection.
What makes this ministry unique?
In the 25 years it has been around, the power of prayer in this ministry is what makes it unique. You see the numbers of boxes increase, but it is hearing the stories of the recipients about the power of prayer in their lives that is so amazing. In addition, all ages can participate in this ministry — from the oldest to the youngest, packing shoeboxes for these children in need. Older volunteers like making the crafts and packing the boxes with their family members so it becomes a multigenerational effort. There is a 101-year old man from Western Maryland who makes wooden cars for the shoeboxes every year.
How do people get involved in Operation Christmas?
The first thing is to visit the website samaritanspurse.org/OCC. Even though the local collection of shoeboxes has already occurred, you can build a shoebox online all year round or you can become a volunteer or prayer partner. You can also begin now and get your organization or church involved in Operation Christmas Child for next year. Most churches start in September to get their efforts going. The third week of November is collection week. Locally, Talbot Bible Church is the collection site, then the shoeboxes are sent to a processing center through mid-December and shipped to children all over the world throughout the year.