This year is a huge year of celebration for Operation Christmas Child. Since 1993 shoebox gifts have been delivered to needy children in areas around the world that have been affected by poverty, famine, natural disaster and war. The project started with a simple delivery to children in the war torn country of Bosnia. Today gift filled shoeboxes are being distributed to children in over 100 countries. This year Operation Christmas Child is celebrating its 20 year anniversary as well as the delivery of the 100,000,000th shoebox.

Conway and the surrounding communities have been participating in the collection of these shoebox gifts since 1999. Collection sites in Conway have included First Presbyterian Church, Antioch Baptist Church, and Fellowship Bible Church. Scores of churches, groups, teams, classes, businesses, families and individuals from our local community have contributed a total 49,690 Christmas shoebox gifts to children in need around the globe since 1999.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, a non-profit disaster relief ministry headed up by Franklin Graham, the oldest son of Billy Graham. Each year individuals and groups fill shoeboxes with small gifts that include small toys, school supplies, hygiene items, hard candy and notes of encouragement. Boxes can be filled for a boy or girl and for any of three age categories: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14. The shoeboxes in our area are collected locally, transported to eight major collection sites in the U.S. where they are sorted by age categories, and then the gifts are shipped to countries where the need for encouragement is great. A total of five sending nations send the gifts to over 100 receiving countries.

This ministry is a great way to kick off the Christmas season. Many groups and families collect items for their boxes year round so that they have their boxes packed and ready before local Christmas activities and ministries occur. One local family, The Wanamakers, have made it an extended family celebration/activity. Four generations of their family collect items for the shoeboxes year round. Then in early November they decorate for Christmas, have the family gather and spend an entire evening packing boxes. Last year they packed 500 shoebox gifts to send to children in dire situations around the world. "The Wanamakers use OCC to focus on the global purposes of loving Jesus and making Him known throughout the world one box at a time." said Shane Wanamaker.

The entire community is invited to join in this gift giving ministry. The 2013 Collection Week is November 18-25. The drop off location this year is 1051 Hogan Lane (Fellowship Bible Church). Drop off hours are from 10-2 Monday through Saturday with additional hours from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, 1-7 on Sunday and 9-12 the last Monday. More information on what to include and what not to include in your shoebox can be found at Dawn Wilson, local collection coordinator recommends that people try to pack in traditional size shoe boxes. "Operation Christmas Child suggests a donation of $7 to cover the cost of transportation of the gifts. The more standard size the shoebox, the more boxes that can be packed into the shipping cartons which allows the shipping donations to be used more efficiently." Shipping donations can be made on line on the Samaritan’s Purse website or a check made out to Samaritan’s Purse can be placed in the shoebox. A tax deductible receipt will be sent for the shipping donations.

"This is an exciting week that we plan for all year. We love seeing the faces and hearing the stories of the people who donate shoeboxes each year!" said Wilson. For more information, in addition to the website, people can contact Dawn Wilson at 501-269-0434.