Tennessee Teen Packs with a Purpose

October 21, 2021 • United States

Motivated by a trip to her birth country, an adopted Tennessee teen has encouraged the packing of 1,000 shoebox gifts over the past two years.

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Tucked in along the Tennessee River between Nashville and Memphis sits the quaint town of Clifton, Tennessee. This town of just over 2,000 people is home for Jane Marie Franks—a 16-year-old high school junior with big goals. In the last two years, she’s rallied her community to pack over 1,000 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts for children in need around the world!

‘Everyone Can Help’

In 2020, Jane Marie kicked off her initiative by speaking at the elementary, middle, and high schools in her town as well as in neighboring Linden, Tennessee. At each event, she shared her passion for filling boxes full of toys and other fun items for kids around the world, always including a quote from Ronald Reagan in the process: “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”

For the past two years, Jane Marie has stored hundreds of packed shoebox gifts in her basement until National Collection Week, the third week in November.

She encouraged these classmates to donate items such as stuffed animals and school supplies to help her reach her goal of packing 500 shoebox gifts that year. Little did she realize how hard this would be when the pandemic hit in March that year, forcing her to move her recruiting efforts to social media instead of school. But to her surprise, this also expanded her donor network across several states.

Despite the disruptions to their normal routines, people at her school donated a total of 1,000 items to be included in the shoebox gifts. For those who couldn’t afford to bring an actual item, they wrote out cards containing Bible verses to be included in the gifts. Her own class of 20 students worked together to raise $100 for shoebox items, and this donation amount was matched by their math teacher—all to contribute to Jane Marie’s goal.

Jane Marie also took to sewing 700 masks to help the effort. Leaving the handmade creations in her mailbox, friends and neighbors would pick up the masks and leave donations for shoebox items in their place.

A sophomore in high school at the time, Jane Marie was motivated to pursue this large goal for a very specific reason. She said, “Operation Christmas Child opens up a way for a child to learn about the Gospel and the Good News.”

A Giving Birthday Party

Encouraged that she met her goal even in a pandemic year, Jane Marie wanted to pack another 500 shoebox gifts in 2021—this time in honor of her 16th birthday on Sept. 1.

Jane Marie and her mother Carolyn shop for shoebox items at Hobby Lobby.

A total of 50 people, including her soccer team, church members, and friends, gathered at First Baptist Church in Clifton—the fellowship she’s attended since she was a baby—to pack another 500 boxes!

People brought teddy bears, backpacks, sharpeners, pencils, and so much more to pack each one of these shoeboxes uniquely for a precious child.

“No gift is too small for God to use—even a crayon box,” said Jane Marie, who finds joy in how such small items can help spread the Gospel.

In keeping with the theme of her missions-focused birthday party, Jane Marie’s cake was in the shape of a globe, and the accompanying cupcakes had icing depicting various international flags.

Jane Marie enjoyed celebrating this way with her friends, even though, having recently injured her left foot in a soccer game, she sat in a boot cast, securing each packed shoebox with rubber bands as they were completed.

Gotcha!

In their 50s at the time, Grayford, a veteran towboat captain, and Carolyn, a school counselor, adopted Jane Marie from Guatemala when she was 6 months old.

The Franks make packing shoebox gifts a family activity.

The couple faced numerous challenges in the process.

First, there was a snow, ice, and sleet storm the day they were supposed to have their first appointment with the adoption agency. Unable to get out of their driveway, the meeting had to be postponed. Then, on their way to their newly arranged appointment, they were in a car wreck.

Yet, despite the mishaps, they saw God’s hand at work.

“There’s no doubt in our mind that we’ve got the child we’re supposed to have,” Grayford said.

The moment they received Jane Marie in Guatemala on April 15, 2006, it was “an indescribable event,” said Carolyn.

Their pastor, Randall Runions, said, “When I was in Guatemala, I saw where she probably lived, where people live in palm tree houses. I think of her adoption. We’re adopted in Christ: how God chose us, how God chose her to be with them. It wasn’t deserving on her part; it was grace. God graced them with Jane Marie, but Jane Marie has in turn been a grace blessing to all of us.”

‘Why Me?’

In 2019 when Jane Marie was 14 years old, the Franks returned to Guatemala for a visit so she could learn about her home country. “I had no idea how that trip would change the next two years of my life,” Jane Marie said.

“Guatemala is such a beautiful country. I love the culture there, the people.”

Jane Marie and Carolyn enjoy filling each shoebox gift with a “wow” item.

What struck her the most were the things that she takes for granted every day. While walking down the street, a young boy approached them and asked through their translator if he could have money so he could attend school.

“I dread going to school every Monday, but for him it was his dream,” said Jane Marie.

Speaking to her church about the experience, Jane Marie reflected, “That child could have easily been me. What if God hadn’t chosen for me to live here? I just kept seeing myself in [him] that night.”

“Why did He choose me?” Jane Marie wondered, but the question also set her to work on her large shoebox-packing goals. She’d packed one or two boxes a year prior to 2020, but since then she’s wanted to make a bigger difference in the lives of children around the world.

As her youth pastor Riley Brashier said the night Jane Marie addressed her church, “When we do something like pack a shoebox and send it off all over the world, families are excited about the smallest thing that you put in the box. But ultimately it goes far beyond putting a toy in box. The point is there are those out there who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

It’s not too late to pack a shoebox! National Collection Week is coming Nov. 15-22.

Jane Marie encourages others to join the fun of packing gift-filled shoeboxes for children in need around the world.

SUPPORT
Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $9 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $9 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $135
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