PLATTSBURGH For those seeking a tangible way to spread good will this Christmas season, Operation Christmas Child provides a hands-on opportunity for any individual, family or group to bring smiles and laughter to children around the globe living in difficult circumstances. The First Assembly of God church, located on Prospect Avenue, has been a collection center for the operation for roughly the last six years, and will be again this year. Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritans Purse, an international Christian relief organization headed by Dr. Billy Grahams oldest son, Franklin. The 17-year-old annual project depends on volunteers from Austria, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Volunteers select an age category 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14 and specify boy or girl. Then, they purchase simple gifts a child in the category would enjoy, such as small toys, stuffed animals, balls, games, T-shirts, coloring books, crayons, school supplies, candy and hygiene items, and pack them in a shoe box. Volunteers are also encouraged to include their picture and address, so the child can contact them, if desired. A suggested donation of $7 per box helps defray the cost of delivery. The boxes are mailed or brought to the collection centers where they are packed into cartons and transported to Samaritans Purse Headquarters in Boone, N.C. From Boone, the boxes are sent off to boys and girls around the world who are suffering as a result of war, disease, natural disaster and poverty. Last year, 7.6 million children in 90 different countries received gift boxes. Some of those boxes made the final leg of their journey by donkey, dugout canoe, camel, snowmobile, or helicopter. For many children, the boxes were the only gifts they received in a year or more. In the 2006 promotional CD for Operation Christmas Child, Lejla Allison, a young lady who is now married and living in the U.S., shared what receiving a shoe box as a 10-year-old in war-stricken Bosnia meant to her. The beginning of my life was full of laughter and joy, she said, but then came the war. War took everything from us. War meant pain, sorrow, no going out to play, and little or no food. The year she received the shoe box, a school was organized in the basement of a house after several years of going without formal education. She had one notebook she would erase her writing from and reuse over and over again. She walked the five miles to school and back in her brothers big, hole-filled sneakers that left her feet cold and wet. She and her family had one slice of bread for their nightly dinner. I no longer felt like a child or even a human, she said, but then came a day that changed the rest of my life. That was the day she received a shoe box, as did all of the children in her school. When I opened it I couldnt believe my eyes. I thought I was only dreaming, she said. There were brand new sneakers, candy, which I hadnt had in four years, pencils, notebooks and many other things. I felt rich. I was so overwhelmed I started to cry. I realized that someone who didnt even know me cared enough to send this to me and I knew that God loved me and I had hope again. This years shoe boxes, each with the potential to be a turning point in the life of a suffering child, are beginning to accumulate at the Assembly of God church. The boxes come from area individuals, families and groups who deliver them personally, or from relay centers in Burke (near Malone), Saranac Lake, Massena or Enosburg Falls, Vt. Plattsburghs Rita Alford is the collection center coordinator for the third year. I basically oversee this center and all the relay centers, she explained. Last year, we collected 3,896 boxes, which was up 600 boxes from the previous year. The Plattsburgh area accounted for 300 of the increase. Obviously, coordinating the collection and packing of that many boxes is quite an undertaking, but Rita is glad to do it. I want to be part of Operation Christmas Child because it reaches out to hurting children with love, caring, and the message of Jesus Christ, Rita explained. The power of a simple shoe box filled with gifts is not in the gifts themselves, but the wonder that someone who doesnt even know them would care and send them a gift. Through war, famine and poverty, it is a gift that brings wonder and joy for a long time to come, and it is wonderful to see all the families and groups that drop off these shoe boxes to us. Boxes may be dropped off at the Assembly of God Church,164 Prospect Ave., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19 the last day boxes may be dropped off. Volunteers are also needed to help pack the boxes in crates and load them in the trucks. For more information about donating a shoe box or helping pack them, call 563-5799.