PLATTSBURGH - The First Assembly of God has been helping less fortunate children overseas for the past 10 years, and it's a tradition that continues.
Since 1999, the Prospect Avenue church has been collecting shoe boxes full of school supplies, hygiene products and toys for needy children as part of Operation Christmas Child. The project is a philanthropic effort overseen by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, explained Rita D. Alford, coordinator for the local church's collection center.
The First Assembly of God first became involved as a relay center, receiving donations from people in the area. The donations were then sent on to a collection center in Albany, where they were then packed transported to the headquarters of Samaritan's Purse in Boone, N.C. The boxes were then sent to destinations around the globe.
In recent years, efforts at the First Assembly of God have grown and the church today serves as a collection center. Donations are taken in from relay centers in Saranac Lake, Malone and Massena, and are then transported directly from Plattsburgh to Boone for worldwide distribution.
Since 1993, when Operation Christmas Child was first established Samaritan's Purse chief executive officer Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, the organization has collected 69 million shoe boxes. Last year, more than 8 million shoe boxes were collected internationally for Operation Christmas Child, with approximately 5 million coming from the United States alone. The Plattsburgh collection center transported 4,202 of those shoe boxes to the distribution center in North Carolina.
This year, Alford wants those numbers to grow.
"Eight million sounds like a lot, but it's really not compared to the amount of children born every year [in developing countries]," said Alford. "In India alone, there are an estimated 28 million babies born a year ... so if every man, woman, boy and girl in this country packed a shoe box, it wouldn't even be enough for every child in India under 14 years of age."
"We'd like to at least collect 4,500 [shoe boxes] this year," Alford added.
Operation's Christmas Child's National Collection Week, falls this year from Monday, Nov. 16, through Monday, Nov. 23. And, while the emphasis on collecting doesn't officially start for another week, shoe boxes and other donations are already being accepted, said Alford, who added making a donation is "very easy."
Donors may take an empty shoe box or small plastic container and fill it with gifts for a girl or boy child. The boxes will be organized by age category - 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14 - and by gender before being distributed.
Alford, who traveled to the Dominican Republic with Operation Christmas Child last February, said seemingly trivial items like pens and pencils, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and toy cars and dolls can mean the world to a child in need.
"These shoe boxes are precious to them. It's hard for us to believe, because we have so much," said Alford. "But, when someone across the world that doesn't know them would pack such a box, with such treasures for them, it just gives them hope."
Boxes, which are asked to be accompanied with a $7 donation per box to cover transportation costs, may be dropped off at the First Assembly of God Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m., through Nov. 23. The boxes be will shipped out from the collection center promptly Tuesday morning, said Alford, making it necessary all donations are turned in before then.
Those interested in learning more about Operation Christmas Child or in making a donation, may contact Alford at 563-5799 or visit the project's Web site at www.samaritanspurse.org.
How to help
Download a list of items that may be donated to Operation Christmas Child, including instructions on how to assemble a donation box, by visiting: www.samaritanspurse.org/pdf/PackABoxwithLabels.pdf.