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A little Christmas love from Wadena

While it may feel a little too early for Christmas decorations and music, one aspect of the holiday season that can never come too early is the giving part, and that's where programs like Operation Christmas Child come in.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization. During the project's National Collection Week (Nov. 13—20), local churches collect shoebox donations filled with school supplies, hygiene items and fun toys for children living in poverty overseas.

Numerous locations in the local area are a part of nearly 5,000 U.S. locations collecting gift-filled shoeboxes for children in need around the world, and local churches, such as St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Perham, are packing boxes to help those in need.

Christopher Brown, Director of Christian Education at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Perham, said when the church first started putting the boxes together it was just a Sunday school project, but this year they decided to make it a congregational project.

"The response was great. We had parents, grandparents, everyone taking part," Brown said. All total the church put together 143 boxes this year.

Brown said they learned about the program from church member Tracy Brown whose church in Alaska put together boxes. She feels it benefits those who pack the boxes as much as those who receive the boxes.

"We can't all go on mission trips and travel to other countries to help others, but we can do this," said Tracy. "This is a great way to teach giving and discipleship."

Putting together a shoebox doesn't have to be done through a church or a group. Individuals can put together a box on their own by going through the Operation Christmas Child website.

Brown said the kids worked hard on getting as much packed into the boxes as possible, and that it was great to see their excitement and hard work.

Brown's mom, Diane said she was happy all day on that Sunday after they finished packing the boxes. "Because we got way more boxes than I was even hoping for, and in my mind's eye I could just see one of those kids opening a box and getting something they really need or want."

All the boxes from St. Paul's will be taken to a drop off location in either Wadena or Detroit Lakes during the week of November 13-20. From there, the boxes are loaded onto a trailer and hauled to Brainerd where they are loaded onto a semi and then shipped to the Twin Cities.

Once the boxes reach the Twin Cities a massive volunteer system goes through every box to make sure everything is safe and acceptable, and then Operation Christmas Child decides where each box will be sent.

Each box includes a book called "The Greatest Journey." Each child who receives a box is encouraged to participate in a 12-week discipleship program. When they graduate from the program, they receive a Bible in their own language.

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child or to view gift suggestions, call 612-369-7023 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ. Participants can donate $9 per shoebox gift online through "Follow Your Box" and receive a tracking label to discover its destination. Those who prefer the convenience of online shopping can browse samaritanspurse.org/buildonline to select gifts matched to a child's specific age and gender, then finish packing the virtual shoebox by adding a photo and personal note of encouragement.

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