What is Operation Christmas Ornaments? How Can You Help?
I have been teaching and writing articles and eBooks about emergency preparedness for 30+ years. I have interviewed hundreds of survivors. (About me: Totally Ready Facebook page or Totallyready.com)
Each year thousands suffer after surviving a natural disaster. As I have spoken to survivors, they often mention missing the Christmas ornaments they lost. We understand we cannot replace the memories of those lost ornaments but hope we can help survivors begin to create new ones. We want these survivors to know they have not been forgotten and each year as they trim their tree we hope they will remember people from all over the country, and the world, cared enough to make and send an ornament.
2020 was our first year serving survivors of disasters providing homemade Christmas ornaments. I reached out to family and friends and 6 of us including Laura who is coordinating our Kentucky efforts, made a little over 600 ornaments. That year our ornaments went to survivors of the fires in Talent and Lincoln City, Oregon.
In 2021 we remembered those in Kentucky and Tennessee who had experienced devastating floods. Hundreds of homes were lost. Unfortunately, lives were also lost. Just as Kentucky was recovering from spring flooding that destroyed homes and the only grocery store in town, a tropical storm soaked the already waterlogged ground in August causing more damage. Tennessee suffered severe flooding causing the loss of hundreds of homes and 20 lives. Then, hurricane Ida struck and much of their support left for the Gulf States. Again, Laura coordinated efforts, collecting, organizing and distributing ornaments.
In 2021 5,800 homemade ornaments were gathered created by 650 individuals from 19 states. We were able to serve close to 600 families. We were overwhelmed and humbled by all the amazing support.
Last year Colorado experienced a horrific firestorm destroying over 1000 homes. Carol reached out to ask how we contact survivors and how we decide who to serve. I noticed she lived in Colorado and soon she agreed to help coordinate efforts there. Laura coordinated the efforts in Kentucky and Tennessee and has been working with us from the beginning.
This year we served the December 2021 tornado survivors in Kentucky and Tennessee and the December 2021 firestorm survivors in Colorado. We received 20,000 ornaments from 33 states and Japan and were able to serve 1,600 families.
We choose those to serve when the disaster happens 10-12 months before the next Christmas. Any sooner than that survivors may still be living in tents, hotels, or FEMA housing and are not ready or equipped to accept ornaments. We need a volunteer in the area of the disaster to commit to collect, sort, package and distribute ornaments. They also need to be willing to contact local agencies working with survivors and arrange for distribution. Coordinators are also our "boots on the ground" and meet with media outlets to explain our efforts and get the word out to survivors and to recruit crafters. We cannot serve a disaster if we cannot find a committed coordinator who lives in the area.
We hope to grow each year enabling us to serve more and more survivors and to bring them love and hope.
We have never asked for money but one of our goals for 2023 is to become a non-profit so we can attract and accept donations from individuals and businesses. It is expensive to package ornaments, travel to distributions locations, pay for hotels and ship ornaments. This year we distributed 1,600 sets of ornaments. Each set required the purchase of large resealable bags costing 15 cents each or $240, plus $160 for boxes to deliver them and $120 for the notes of encouragement included in each set. Those are the small expenses. Add the price of shipping ,fuel to deliver the ornaments hundreds of miles away, and other travel expenses for meals and hotels and the coordinators are spending a lot of money.
We want to be able to accept tax deductible donations to help with these expenses but now we need to pay for the government fees and experts to help us achieve our goal. If you can help with these expenses, please contribute on our Go Fund Me page.
Our coordinators have been spending so much and we need to help relieve that burden.
Please see posts with maps for the addresses when mailing ornaments.
The variety of ornaments we have received is absolutely amazing. When creating ornaments there are a few tips we have learned after receiving 20,000 ornaments, some that arrived broken and damaged. As you plan for 2023 consider the following.
1. Green ornaments do not show up as well on a green tree.
2. Wooden ornaments such as those made by using clothes pins should be glued together with wood glue. Other glues do not hold up as well.
3. Painted and glued ornaments should be allowed to dry for a few days before mailing. Wet paint will make a mess
4. Ornaments 4-5 inches or smaller work the best. If, however your ornaments are narrow and longer than 5 inches, such as those made on ribbons, that works as well. We place a dozen ornaments in each resealable bag and if they are too crowded in the bag they can be damaged.
5. If making wood ornaments or those with a solid back, feel free to put your city and state on the back. Survivors have shared they want to remember where they were created.
6. Be sure the materials you use are sturdy and can withstand travel and sorting. Have you ever received a damaged box in the mail? We did. In fact one of the boxes I sent was damaged and thus a few ornaments were damaged. We want to make sure your hard work, financial investment and love are protected from harm. Wood, fabric, plastic, beads, metal, yarn, all work well. If using ribbon be sure to fray check the ends if the ribbon unravels.
7. If you are making ornaments from plastic pieces that snap together to make the ornament, please glue them closed or place a couple stickers over the closure. Stickers come in the shape of snowflakes or even polka dots. They may come apart in shipping and will not be as beautiful as you intended.
8. We are only accepting ornaments. Other Christmas crafts and decorations are too large to distribute.
9. All ornaments need to be handmade. Our goal is to help survivors understand there are many willing to spend time making a gift just for them.
Survivors are always very grateful for each ornament, but they are most excited when they see all the places ornaments were created and who created them. Packaging is important. Please follow the following guidelines when packaging.
1.Package each ornament in a see thru bag, either cellophane, plastic or organza.
2. Include a way to hang the ornament.
3. Add a note which includes a message. Message may be a message of hope or encouragement. It may be a poem or scripture verse. Whatever message you feel will help them feel your love and concern for them. When adding an organization please write it out. For example few people know what YW (young women) or YSA (young single adults) means.
4. Also on the note include the city and state or country in which the ornament was made. Our goal is for survivors to receive ornaments from 12 different states.
This year we had ornaments arrive that were not packaged in this way and our coordinators spent hours packaging. This takes away from the time they can work with survivors and organizations serving them. When you get 20,000 ornaments that's a lot of work!
Shipping can be expensive, and it can preserve all the hours of effort you put in or it can damage your creations.
Please be sure your ornaments do not move around in the box. As you gently rock the box back and forth if you can feel ornaments moving, please add bubble wrap or air-filled pillows to cushion them.
Before sealing your box, please add a note with the number of ornaments included. This saves hours of time for coordinators. If you send multiple boxes, please include a count in each box.
FOR MAILING… please compare costs online or use a service, such as https://ship.pirateship.com/ Comparing rates or using a service can save lots of money!