Christmas is arriving early in Stephenville, as First Christian Church prepares to serve as a collection point for Operation Christmas Child. Soon, with the help of local volunteers, the site will be brimming with festively wrapped shoe boxes full of gifts.

Through Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project, Stephenville residents are helping send shoe box gifts to more than 8 million children in 100 countries suffering from natural disaster, war, terrorism, 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, camels, even dog sleds—to reach suffering children around the world.

Last year, Stephenville contributed more than 750 shoe boxes to the effort. This year, organizers hope to collect more than 800 gift-filled shoe boxes from families, kids, churches, schools and civic organizations in the area.

"We've grown every year since 2006. Our goal is to always do better than last year," said David Swearingen. "This year we want to exceed 800 shoe boxes."

To make a contribution, select if you would like to donate your box for a boy or girl and what age group it should be given to. Shoe boxes should be filled with age appropriate items such as toys, hygiene items, hard candy and school suplies for age groups 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14 years of age.

"We encourage everyone to use a shoe box-sized plastic container. Many children reuse them for things like carrying drinking water to their homes," Swearingen said.

The First Christian Church in Stephenville has organized this community effort since 2003. Donations are accepted Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to noon through Nov. 21 at the church on Tarleton Street.

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

"It is a very good cause to be involved in," said Swearingen. "For some kids who receive these boxes, that will be the only things they own."