First Christian Church in Stephenville is serving as the drop-off location for Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse project that collects shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items and delivers them to children in need around the world.

For many of these children, this gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

“I've heard some of these adults who were children when they got a box talk about how excited they were to get that box and there was always something that they needed,” said Francine Pratt, board member at First Christian Church. “I remember this one young lady who was from Romania. She was talking about how she had wanted barrettes for her hair and she never had any. That year, when she got her box, she said she got a lot of barrettes in it and she was able to share it with her family members. She was excited because it was something that she had wanted.”

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 168 million shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories.

Operation Christmas Child’s goal for 2019 is to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine. More than 10.6 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2018, with more than 8.8 million collected in the U.S.

“I moved to Stephenville in 2006 and I was so excited that we had that outreach for children who were in other countries,” Pratt said. “I felt like it was a great global outreach because we would reach children beyond our borders.”

First Christian Church collected 1,804 shoeboxes in 2018 alone.

Individuals are asked to not include items like candy, toothpaste, used or damaged items, war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures, seeds, chocolate or food, liquids or lotions, medications or vitamins, breakable items, such as snow globes or glass containers or aerosol cans.

Participants can also donate $9 per shoebox gift online through Follow Your Box and receive a tracking label to discover its destination.

Nearly 500,000 volunteers worldwide—with more than 150,000 of those in the U.S.—are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.

Collection Week is Nov. 18-25. Hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. except for Wednesday, Nov. 20, when the hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and the last day of collection, Monday, Nov. 25, when the hours are 9 a.m.-11 a.m.

Boxes are now available along with a brochure featuring packing information and can be picked up at First Christian Church.

"It’s pretty neat to be able to touch kids with a gift,” Pratt said. “I know how important Christmas gifts were to me when I was a child and it’s nice to know that you’re able to give something to someone at the time of year when we talk about gifts and caring and love, so I really like this project of Samaritans Purse; it’s very worthwhile.”