Val Johnson was surprised when her friend, Rebecca Volkerding, called to say she had been nominated as a Hometown Hero by Modern Woodman Chapter 18132.
“For what?” Val asked.
She thought it might be for a Tai Chi class that she, her husband, Dave, and Mary Winterhof lead on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Jackson Civic Center. “We’re serving the community,” Johnson explained. “Anybody who wants to come — we will lead them in stretch exercise.”
But that was not the reason for the nomination.
Johnson is also deeply involved with Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Volkerding had asked Johnson to talk to her after-school girls club about the Christmas shoeboxes and how Johnson started serving.
“I came from humble beginnings,” Johnson explained to the girls. “I learned about serving from my grandma and my mom. We never had much money, but we always had time to help someone. And the majority of our serving, for my grandma, my mom, and me, has been serving the Lord through church organizations. It just came natural to me.
“I was a Sunday schoolteacher for many, many years,” Johnson continued. “And when I decided to stop teaching Sunday school, my friend, Lynda Strauser, asked me to help with Operation Christmas Child. That was nine years ago. Little did I know it would become my passion.
“It’s my passion because, not only do we fill these boxes with necessary items for children in third world countries, but every child who receives a box gets to learn about their Savior, Jesus. And that’s my passion, for everyone to learn about their Savior Jesus.
“I don’t do it on my own,” she stressed. She is helped by Mary Winterhof and Sally Allen. “We are a team. We have a group of ladies called Helping Hands at St. Paul. The Helping Hands ladies work for many months, making things for the shoeboxes. We have two talented seamstresses who sew clothing and baby doll blankets. Some even make baby dolls, and it’s all to go in these boxes.
“This year, we have packed so far, with the church and the Helping Hands ladies and our St. Paul school children, 1,391 boxes. And by the grace of God, we got the money to ship them off.”
Shoeboxes are shipped to over 100 countries around the world. Johnson keeps track of where the St. Paul boxes have gone. They have gone to Mexico, Mongolia, Bots-wana, Zambia, Peru, Burundi and Ghana.
“Many times these children have never received a gift in their entire life,” Johnson said. “Many of them have no toys at all.”
Older children really like soccer balls, so they deflate a ball and stuff it in the box with a little pump. “The whole neighborhood or a whole village could play with a soccer ball,” Johnson said.
Boxes are packed for boys or girls in three age brackets: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14.
“It’s amazing what we can get to fit in a shoebox,” Johnson said. “We put in a soccer ball, and a roll of [school] paper, and soap. We try to give either a baby doll or a stuffed animal to everybody. For the boys, we do little stuffed animals. We always try to get three toys [in each box].”
The boxes at St. Paul were taken to a collection center last Sunday. They will then be forwarded to a distribution center, and Samaritan’s Purse will ship them to third world countries.
“Samaritan’s Purse shares the love of Jesus. They do a 12-week class with the children, so they really learn what Jesus did for them,” Johnson said.
Johnson says the reason she volunteers for this project is “simply because of my love for Jesus Christ. That’s what motivates me. My service has usually been centered around the church.”
She never expected to be named a Hometown hero. “I’m very humbled by this,” she said.
Anyone wishing to donate may find more information on the Samaritan’s Purse website or call Johnson at 573-243-6046.