For the sixth year, Grand Avenue Methodist Church, 841 Quapaw Ave., will serve as the relay collection center for Operation Christmas Child, which each year sends gift-filled shoeboxes to children around the world.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan's Purse, has collected 124 million gift-filled shoeboxes from the United States, Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom to deliver to children in more than 150 countries and territories around the world, according to the Operation Christmas Child website.
National collection week starts today.
Shari Coston, relay center coordinator, said all area churches and individuals can bring filled boxes to Grand Avenue United Methodist Church. Volunteers will take crates of boxes to Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.
Grand Avenue United Methodist Church has participated in Operation Christmas Child for eight years. At that time, all boxes were taken to Little Rock for collection. The program grew to the point Hot Springs needed its own relay center, and the church was selection to fill that need. Coston said she believes that, as the program continues to grow, Hot Springs will have more relay centers.
During collection week, Coston said a volunteer will be at the church at least three hours each day to receive the boxes. She said the hours are different each day, so individuals should call the church at 623-5626 for the schedule. Volunteers will be able to answer questions, show finished boxes and provide shoeboxes.
Last year, 43 different churches from 20 different denominations in the Hot Springs area collected 4,500 boxes that were distributed to children in Africa and the Caribbean, according to Coston. She hopes this year Hot Springs will provide even more. The boxes collected this year are scheduled to be delivered to children in Mexico.
"For most of them, this is the first present they have ever had," Coston said.
Individuals, families and groups start with an empty cardboard shoebox, a plastic shoebox, or one of the cardboard Operation Christmas Child boxes, according to Coston. The person packing the box decides the gender and age group for the items that go inside. Labels can be printed from the Operation Christmas Child website or are available at Grand Avenue.
The box should be packed with what Coston called a "wow" item, such as a doll or a ball, and hygiene items, school supplies and small toys. Coston said items like Hot Wheels cars, yo-yos, bracelets and barrettes are great for the boxes. The Operation Christmas Child website also suggests including a note of encouragement for the child who will get the gift.
Boxes should not include any war toys, food or items that might be seized at customs. The Samaritan's Purse website has a full list of what can and cannot go in boxes.
In addition to the gifts, the children will be given the opportunity to take a 12-week Bible class, "The Greatest Journey."
Coston said that if packers wish to wrap the gifts, boxes and lids should be wrapped separately. After the gifts are sent to a regional processing center, volunteers will check the contents and add an illustrated story of Jesus in the language of the child who will receive the box.
Individuals who might not be able to pack a box themselves can go to the Operation Christmas Child website and donate or pay to pack a box online. Coston said Grand Avenue United Methodist Church can accept donations to help with transportation costs.
Packers can visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/follow-your-box/ to donate $7 and print a tracking label for their shoebox. When the box is delivered, the packer will receive an email letting them know where the box ended up.
"It is such a happy feeling to pack a box and know it will make a child happy," said Coston. "You will want to do it again and again."Local on 11/16/2015