Christmas is arriving early in Stephenville this year, as the Operation Christmas Child Volunteers in Erath County are making preparations to collect, count and ship shoeboxes filled gifts to children around the world who perhaps have never received a gift of any kind.

Through Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project, Erath County residents are helping send shoebox gifts to nearly 9 million children in 120 countries suffering from natural disaster, war, terrorist, disease, famine and poverty. From Stephenville, the shoe box gifts will be sorted and sent using whatever means necessary – sea containers, trucks, trains, airplanes, boats, elephants, even dog sleds – to reach suffering children around the world.

Last year, Erath County contributed 979 gift-filled shoeboxes from families, kids, churches, schools and civic organizations.

“We have grown incredibly since we began operations in 2003. The goal for Erath County is to always collect more shoeboxes than the previous year,” said David Swearingen. “This year we hope to exceed 1,100 boxes.”

It is easy and fun to participate. Just select if you would like to donate your box for a boy or a girl, and then specify an age group as listed below. Shoe boxes should be filled with age appropriate items such as toys, hygiene items, hard candy and school supplies for age groups, 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14 years of age.

“We encourage everyone to use a shoe box-sized plastic container, but any shoebox will work. We recommend the plastic shoeboxes because children can reuse them. Many even carry drinking water to their families with the plastic containers.” Swearingen said.

The first collection week is Nov. 12 - 19. Please bring your shoeboxes to the First Christian Church of Stephenville at 450 W. Tarleton during the following hours: Monday, Nov. 12, - Saturday, Nov. 17 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18, 9 a.m. - noon, Monday, Nov. 19, - 9 - 9:30 a.m.

For more information, call 965-4878 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.