About 1,000 volunteers from across the country crowded into a south Charlotte warehouse Tuesday to help Franklin Graham celebrate the send-off of 11 million shoeboxes filled with gifts for children in more than 100 countries.
The launch, complete with Christmas carols, prayers and an assembly line of child volunteers, is an annual event. And evangelist Graham, CEO of the Christian charity, traditionally gives a pep talk and introduces a well-known guest speaker. Two years ago, it was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory took the stage with a blue shoebox destined, he said, for a boy in Nigeria.
“It’s blue because of the undefeated Carolina Panthers football team!” he said to cheers. “And within this box, we have a Panther hat. We’re going to make a fan out of young boy in Nigeria.”
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Also in the box: a football signed signed by McCrory and Graham as well as toothpaste, socks, and underwear – “things we take for granted that kids around the world need,” McCrory said.
Graham, who has become more outspoken in recent years on topics including Islam and same-sex marriage, devoted part of his Tuesday remarks to promoting his 2016 prayer tour of all 50 state capitals. He’ll start in January in Iowa – site of the first election-year presidential caucus – and end in October in North Carolina, where Republican McCrory will be wrapping up what’s expected to be a hard-fought campaign against likely opponent Democrat Roy Cooper, now the state’s attorney general.
Graham said he won’t endorse any candidates but will encourage Christians to go to the polls – and seek God’s guidance through prayer about whom to vote for.
“Our country is in real trouble,” he said. “And I have absolutely zero hope in the Democratic Party. I have absolutely zero hope in the Republican Party. I have zero hope in the tea party. The only hope for America is God.”
Graham said “secularists” hope to convince Christians that their votes won’t count enough to bother going to the polls. But he said a big evangelical Christian turnout could elect “Bible-believing” candidates to national, state and local posts.
“Think about how important local elections are,” Graham said. “School boards. Could you imagine the next two or three election cycles if a majority of the school boards of America were born-again, Bible-believing evangelical Christians?”
For the volunteers, Tuesday’s hourlong celebration served as a break from their chores of inspecting, packing and taping the shoeboxes sent in by churchgoers across the country.
Volunteer Shirley Heizer, who drove about four hours from Staunton, Va., said helping bring joy to children was the perfect way to honor a holiday that’s about the birth of a baby.
“I love doing this,” Heizer said as she handled a shoebox filled with candies, toothbrushes, gloves, and a jump-rope. “And I’d love to see their faces when they open these boxes.”