PRINCETON — Collection for this year’s Operation Christmas Child has come to an end locally, with First Baptist Church of Princeton taking in 5,635 shoeboxes through Monday from around the Land Between the Lakes collection area.

Of that total, 3,695 shoeboxes came from around the region — including Caldwell, Christian, Crittenden, Lyon and Trigg counties — and 1,940 shoeboxes from the Hopkins County collection center in Madisonville.

Each shoebox was filled with toys and games, hygiene products and school supplies and sent to children around the world, fulfilling the mission of the annual Operation Christmas Child project, to bring a touch of Christmas to children who might not get presents.

The project is a missionary program of Samaritan’s Purse, an organization headed by Franklin Graham, the son of noted minister Billy Graham. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 178 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories. Each box will also come with “The Greatest Journey,” a discipleship program, and a copy of the Gospel of John.

Shoeboxes were placed into cardboard cartons throughout the week, and those cartons were loaded onto a semi trailer on the church parking lot to be delivered to Charlotte, North Carolina, one of several national processing centers. From there, the shoeboxes are sent to children ages 2 to 14 around the world.

In Charlotte, the shoeboxes will be processed, where volunteers will go through each box and take out items that customs would not allow to be shipped — like toothpaste or candy — and replace them with other items that would be allowed.

The children receiving the gifts live in 106 countries worldwide, including Angola, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon and Ukraine.

Ruth Gray, the Land Between the Lakes area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, said the numbers were down slightly from last year’s donations.

“Still, for this pandemic time, it is amazing,” she said. “So many churches have not had in-person services, so they haven’t been there to do the shoeboxes.”

Gray has been working with Operation Christmas Child for several years.

“Just knowing that the greatest gift that the children can receive is eternal life,” she said. “Right now, letting them know that somebody cares about them that is bringing them good news of great joy.

“It is good news about Jesus, and the great joy of getting a gift from somebody that cares about them. Most of these are only going to get one shoebox in their lifetime, so for many, it is the first gift they have ever received. It’s such a simple way to let other people know that you care about them.”

Gray said the shoebox program is a missionary project for participating churches.

“It is the best way and most economical way to send a missionary, because you send a box,” she said. “With every box, you’re getting to hear the gospel opportunity.

“Then, it multiplies. It’s not just for the children. They’ll go home and share with their families, so then, the families have opportunities.”

Gray said most of the shoeboxes go to orphanages, schools and churches.

“A lot of people are on a waiting list in order to get the shoeboxes,” she said. “That’s why we work so hard to get more every year.

“You can do them all year. You can do them online if you don’t want to go shopping. You can go to samaritanspurse.org and fill a shoebox online and pay online without having to go to a store.”

Gray said that while this is a Christmas project, many of the children will not receive the gifts until February or March.

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