First Baptist Church in Downtown Benton will be serving as a relay center for Operation Christmas Child in Saline County.
Lisa Baldwin, a volunteer for the project, noted that this is "a worldwide children's relief project that uses gift-filled shoe boxes to let hurting boys and girls know that they are loved and not forgotten."
She said this is a division of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham.
Margaret Herzfeld, a member of First Baptist Church, is organizing the local relay center.
Baldwin explained that Operation Christmas Child started as an outreach to orphans in Romania in 1990. "Samaritan's Purse adopted the program 18 years ago and has distributed over 94 million gift-filled shoe boxes since then," Baldwin said.
She noted that the boxes are sent to children in some of the most remote countries and poverty-stricken areas of the united States.
"These boxes provide hope to thousands of children affected by war and environmental disasters," she said. "Many have never received a Christmas gift before."
The gifts reportedly are delivered by truck, donkey, canoe, boat and helicopter.
According to Baldwin, many denominations support the project. "Some of the largest denominations participating include the Church of God, United Methodists and Southern Baptists, and several nondenominational groups also contribute."
She said participation is not limited to churches, but also includes community groups, clubs and individuals.
"Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., George Bush Jr. and Bill Clinton have all packed shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child," she said. "Many families have made it a part of their holiday traditions because it reflects the true meaning of Christmas. Each box represents God's gift of love."
Baldwin said the boxes can be packed with a variety of small items, such as school supplies, hygiene products "and small toys that do not depict violence."
Boxes are checked to make certain they are culturally appropriate before distribution, she said.
Guidelines for packing are noted in a pamphlet, she added. "The pamphlet contains a label that identifies the box for a boy or girl in a specific age group. It also contains a section to include $7 that covers the cost of delivery. The pamphlet also provides instructions for tracking boxes online to see where they have been delivered."
Baldwin said the boxes should be wrapped in holiday style, leaving the tops removable for processing. "Pre-printed holiday boxes are available at First Baptist Church for those who would like to participate but don't like to wrap presents."
Any size shoe box may be used, she said. Plastic shoe boxes provide an added bonus for the receiver because they provide storage for those that live in one-room homes, tents and huts.
Included with each box is a book titled "The Greatest Journey," which gives the meaning of Christmas.
Baldwin encouraged individuals and organizations to work on collecting the shoe boxes and deliver them to First Baptist Church, 211 S. Market St. in Downtown Benton. These should be taken to the church during National Collection Week, which is Nov. 12-19.
Specific collection times are:
•Monday, Nov. 12, 4-6 p.m.
•Tuesday, Nov. 13, 4-6 p.m.
•Wednesday, Nov. 14, 4-7:30 p.m.
•Thursday, Nov. 15, 4-6 p.m.
•Friday, Nov. 16, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
•Saturday, Nov. 17, 9 a.m.-noon.
•Sunday, Nov. 18, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
•Monday, Nov. 19, 8-10 a.m.
For more information about the program, call Baldwin at 552-1100 or First Baptist Church at 315-2270.