Days before he died, Columbus area man gave Christmas gifts to more than 500 children

January 26, 2021
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Despite limited mobility from late-stage Parkinson’s disease, Terry Kiney wanted to pack 500 plastic shoeboxes full of hygiene items, school supplies and toys he bought for impoverished children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.

It took him about six weeks, but by the deadline, he finished with 509.

Kiney, 82, and his wife, Eleanor, had been volunteering with the Samaritan’s Purse project for 25 years in Florida. She died in May, but he continued the tradition while living with his daughter, Sarah Fary, on post at Fort Benning.

Fary did the shopping, but Kiney paid for the items and packed them. She delivered the boxes in a rented truck to Lakewood Baptist Church in Phenix City, the Chattahoochee Valley’s central collection center for Operation Christmas Child.

Three days later, Kiney died at home in hospice care.

“God knew when he would call my dad home,” Fary told the Ledger-Enquirer. “At the same time, it does sort of feel like, from an earthly perspective, my dad had a goal, and he met his goal. … That was enough for him.”

The following week would have been the first wedding anniversary Kiney and his wife had been apart.

“There’s part of me that’s like, he wanted to get those boxes done, and then he wanted to go be with his wife and his savior,” Fary said.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has given more than 178 million children gift-filled shoeboxes — including a storybook Bible in the child’s language — in more than 160 countries and territories, according to its website.

The 509 boxes Kiney packed were part of the 20,051 from the Chattahoochee Valley this year, said Linda Keown, the central drop-off team leader for this project at Lakewood, where she also serves as assistant music and media minister.

“It’s just amazing that, even in his condition, it didn’t give him an excuse, a reason or a desire to slow down,” Keown told the L-E. “If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, the thing that matters most is that others know Him. … That’s why Terry wanted to pack those boxes: to change a child’s life.”

Fary thanked Keown for the warm reception at Lakewood — and the plant and sympathy letter after her father died. But she emphasized he received as much as he gave through this project.

“He felt it was such a privilege to do it, and it gave him such joy,” she said. “I’m glad that was one of the last things he was able to do because it was something that meant so much to him.”

Kiney and his wife had more than two dozen Operation Christmas Child shirts they had collected over the years as ambassadors of the project, visiting churches and other groups to encourage their participation. Fary asked a friend to make a quilt out of them.

It was supposed to be a Christmas gift for her father, but Fary saw his declining health and gave it to him last month.

“He was amazed,” she said. “… He couldn’t stop staring at it and talking about how beautiful it was.”

She hung it in his bedroom, where he spent his last lucid moments.

“He saw the reinforcement of all the good that he and my mom had done together for so many years,” she said.

Fary intends to keep the tradition alive.

“I feel like I have a legacy and a heritage that my parents have given to me and now my adult children have seen,” she said. “I feel like every year now, when it’s time to do shoeboxes, it’s going to be a precious memory for all of us.”

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