PLATTSBURGH - The First Assembly of God has begun its participation in Operation Christmas Child.
The annual campaign involves the church collecting shoe boxes full of school supplies, hygiene products and toys for needy children overseas as part of a national effort overseen by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization.
Rita D. Alford, coordinator for the local church's collection center, said the church aims to collect 4,800 shoe boxes - a slight increase over the 4,489 collected locally last year.
Alford said the church did well last year considering it was the first year since it lost a collection center in Vermont that provided a great deal of boxes toward the Plattsburgh center's overall donation to Samaritan's Purse.
"This year we've upped the amount because now we're sending boxes to Haiti," said Alford.
Previously, boxes weren't accepted in Haiti, said Alford, but in the wake of the earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean country earlier this year, relief efforts have been more welcomed.
This year, Operation Christmas Child will also potentially see more donations locally with the addition of relay centers in Westport and Ogdensburg.
"Usually, wherever we have a extra relay center, that area tends to increase in shoeboxes," said Alford. "It makes it easier for them to go to Westport than all the way to Plattsburgh to drop them off. Usually, there's also more excitement in the community because right there they have a local connection."
Donations will be collected for Operation Christmas Child from Monday, Nov. 15, through Monday, Nov. 22. Shoe boxes will be assembled and joined with already-completed shoe boxes for shipment Tuesday, Nov. 23.
Donors may take an empty shoe box or small plastic container and fill it with gifts for a girl or boy child. Boxes are then organized by volunteers by age category - ages 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14 - and by gender before being distributed. Those donating boxes are encouraged to donate $7 per box to cover transportation costs.
Boxes may be dropped off at the First Assembly of God on Prospect Avenue Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m., through Nov. 23.
For those who have never helped Operation Christmas Child, Alford said there's no time like the present.
"It's just amazing that we can reach a child in another country that feels like they're forgotten with all the things going on in the world like the war, famine, disease and natural disasters," she said. "The fact somebody that they don't even know would care enough to put a shoebox together for them really touches their hearts and their parents' hearts."
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.