Samaritan’s Purse is an international Christian-based organization that brings physical relief to hurting people around the world – and one of the area coordinators is right here in our backyard.

Janice Hartinger, of Rolla, has been the area coordinator for South-Central Missouri of Samaritan’s Purse for five years.

The area covers eight counties, and she has been volunteering with the organization for about 18 years, among other volunteer efforts in our community. Being in her role, she has groups of volunteers in each county she manages.

“So that's my role is to shepherd them and mentor them and train them, and keep them going along,” Hartinger said. “(The organization) does international crisis response. Any time there is a crisis somewhere, they’re usually the first ones on the ground.”

According to the Samaritan’s Purse website, when a disaster strikes, they respond immediately by mobilizing staff and experienced relief workers to partner with local churches to give relief.

“We have responded to earthquakes in Haiti, Ecuador and Nepal; typhoons in the Philippines; and to large-scale refugee crises in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We have sent teams to fight infectious diseases such as Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and diphtheria in Bangladesh,” according to the website.

They’ve also deployed emergency hospitals to several countries during the pandemic.

Hartinger usually helps locally, but she was been deployed to Zambodia, Africa in 2008 to distribute shoe boxes. The shoe box program of Samaritan’s Purse is a discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey.”

“In Africa, I got to see firsthand over there, what this meant to those children,” Hartinger said.

During her time in Africa, they distributed shoe boxes to a church that had refugee families from Angola.

“The children of those refugees…they just had no hope,” she said. “They weren’t kids laughing or smiling. They were just hopeless.”

Hartinger said once those kids were given the shoe boxes full of toys, school supplies, hygiene products and more, they got really excited.

“This is a big deal to them because they have so little,” Hartinger said.

While she was in Africa, she also distributed boxes at an AIDS hospital in Enola, Zambia. They gave out about 475 shoe boxes there. They only had so many boxes to give, and she was asked for a box by another young boy.

“We’ve given these boxes out, and I felt this young boy tugging on my shirt,” she said. “I turned around, and he was a street urchin. He had no shoes, he’s dressed in really dirty clothes…And he looked at me, and he said, ‘No box?’ And it just broke my heart.”

Hartinger said they were able to gather some loose things to give to him. But then, she felt a tug again.

“No box?” said the boy again.

He had a little friend with him that said nothing but was in similar shape.

“And I guess what I got out of that was the boxes we pack every year for those children that didn’t get one, you know, was kind of a motivator to want to pack more boxes. You realize the need is great,” Hartinger said.

Hartinger said they were supposed to be deployed to Uganda last year, but COVID-19 stopped them. She said they might get to go next year.

“I always say we have poor here, (but) you can’t imagine the difference in poverty,” she said. “To even have clean water. It’s huge,” Hartinger said. “We had a little girl come up to us at the AIDS hospital and she’d gotten socks in her box. White socks. She said, ‘I just want to thank you.’ We were telling her, ‘Well, don’t thank us. You can thank God for this.’”

The little girl responded, “Oh, I already thanked Him, but I want to thank you.”

The little girl told Hartinger she was getting in trouble at school for not having white socks with her uniform. Now, she has socks to wear so she won’t get disciplined.

“Like a pencil, when it’s in there, they’ll make a pencil last a month, sharpening it down to the nub,” she said. “Because a lot of them can’t go to school without school supplies.”

Locally, Hartinger has helped with Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan’s Purse for many years.

“Last year, we got in this area 11,718 boxes,” she said. “Which is really good…since we’ve started, we’ve collected 120,000-plus boxes.”

Hartinger said you can join her and volunteer in the community by reaching out to her.

“I’m always looking for year-round volunteers that are interested in becoming part of our team,” she said. “That’s an important part of this because the more volunteers we have, the more we can do. It’s just that simple.”

Contact Janice Hartinger at acjaniceh@gmail.com, or call (573) 368-8736. For more information about Samaritan’s Purse, go to samaritanspurse.org.