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Members of Fox Memorial church near Scottsville held a wrapping and packing party last year for Operation Christmas Child.Christmas may be several weeks away, but local churches and families are getting a head start on this season of giving through a unique project aimed at helping needy children overseas.

Operation Christmas Child is an international outreach that brings hope and joy to millions of boys and girls each year, many of whom have endured difficult circumstances brought on by war, poverty, disease, or natural disaster. Through the gift of a simple shoe box—filled with small toys and school supplies—these hurting children are reminded that they are not forgotten. For some of them, it is the first gift they have ever received.

Members of Salem United Methodist Church in Palmyra

Retired Fluvanna County teacher Kathy Brent has made Operation Christmas Child a part of her holiday traditions for the past 12 years. She collects items throughout the year to pack into shoe boxes.

“We are so blessed in this country. There are children in some parts of the world who have nothing,” she said. “Operation Christmas Child is a way to show these children that somebody in the world cares for them.”

Brent and fellow parishioner Juanita Steere serve as co-coordinators for the project at Salem United Methodist Church. Their church is the central collection site in Fluvanna for individuals or groups who want to drop off filled shoe boxes during National Collection Week, Nov. 12-19.

Last year, the church received 519 boxes for Operation Christmas Child, and Brent hopes county residents will drop off even more this holiday season.

“I hope we can make a difference in the lives of as many children as possible,” she said. “This time of year, all children deserve something special. We want those who have been through some tough times to know they are loved.”

Along with Salem United Methodist, there are nearly a dozen Fluvanna churches that participate in Operation Christmas Child. These churches are among tens of thousands of congregations, civic groups, businesses, and schools across the United States whose simple gifts of kindness bring Christmas joy and the message of God’s love to hurting children in some of the most remote areas of the world.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, headquartered in Boone, N.C. Since 1993, the ministry has delivered more than 94 million shoe box gifts to boys and girls in over 130 countries.

In addition to the United States, other sending nations include Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand.
The journey of a shoe box begins with caring individuals who pack the container with an assortment of new toys, hygiene items, school supplies, hard candy, and a personal note or card. The box can be designated for a boy or a girl in one of three age groups: 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14.

At Fox Memorial Baptist Church in Scottsville, members of the congregation hold an Operation Christmas Child packing party during the last Sunday of National Collection Week. Last year they filled 55 boxes.

“Everybody brings items and we organize them in piles on the tables. Then people select the gifts they want to place in their boxes,” explained Doris Duncan, who leads the project. “It’s fun for the adults as well as the kids. We all have a good time.”

After boxes are filled and dropped off at local collection sites, they are transported to one of seven regional processing centers in the United States, where they are prepared for shipment overseas. Those centers are located in Boone, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta; Minneapolis; Denver; Orange County, Calif.; and Honolulu.

Once the boxes arrive at their destination country, local churches and ministry partners of Samaritan’s Purse oversee the distribution of the boxes to children in their communities. Some of these villages are so isolated that the boxes have to be transported via canoes, camels, and even dogsleds.

The blessings do not end with the stuffed animals and notebooks found inside the boxes. Through Operation Christmas Child, churches in these distant lands have the opportunity to share God’s love and reach out to needy children and their families. The impact can be far-reaching, and it all begins with a simple shoe box gift.

“This project offers an opportunity to look beyond our own lives and even our own community, to consider God’s family throughout the world,” said Drew Wilson, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church.

Shoe boxes can be dropped off at Salem United Methodist during National Collection Week, Nov. 12-19, at the following times: Nov. 12: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Nov. 13: 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.; Nov. 14: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Nov. 15: 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.; Nov. 16: 9 a.m. – noon; Nov. 17: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Nov. 18: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Nov. 19: 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. Call (434) 589-3555 for additional information.

To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, or for specific instructions on how to pack a shoe box gift, go to www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.