Each year, families, churches and groups of all kinds gather toys, gloves, socks, art supplies and many other gifts to begin packing shoe boxes for their long trip to children in other countries.
The gifts, part of Operation Christmas Child, signal to many the beginning of the Christmas season.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, a project of the international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, has collected more than 94 million shoe box gifts and hand-delivered them to children in more than 130 countries. Some of these youngsters are survivors of natural disasters, war, famine and poverty. The hope is that they know they are loved and not forgotten.
Elkins resident Ann Urban, left, helps out during Thanksgiving break at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center in Boone, N.C. Urban visits with Franklin and Jane Graham.
Locally, the gifts are collected at local businesses such as Big Lots of Elkins, and are trucked out to a Operation Christmas Child Processing Center, located in Boone, N.C.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, a group of volunteers from the First United Methodist Church in Elkins made a trip to the processing center to inspect and pack the gift-filled shoe boxes into shipping cartons for their long journey to Africa. They were joined by hundreds of other volunteers age 13 to 90, travelings from several states to be part of the world's largest Christmas children's project.
While the volunteers were there, approximately 100,000 shoe box gifts were processed at the center. Members of the group included Ryan Urban, Sam Urban, Ann Urban, Carolyn Shepler, Mark Phipps, Russell Linger, Betty Linger, Dan Williams, Karen Quasny and Bob Cowgill.
Members of the group said they were blessed to be a part of a group with such a wide variety of young and old.
They were especially impressed by the youth, who worked with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.There were jobs for everyone, packaging candy and hygiene items, folding T-shirts, inspecting the contents of the boxes and packing the shoe boxes into shipping cartons. There was even a "shoebox hospital" to fix damaged shoe boxes and torn wrapping.
While at the processing center, the group visited with Franklin Graham and his wife, Jane who took the time to visit all the work stations to meet the volunteers and thank them for coming. Graham is the son of evangelist Billy Graham and is president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse.
Operation Christmas Child celebrated 20 years of ministry this year. Since 1993 the program has delivered more than 103 million shoe box gifts to children in crisis situations all over the world.