Special to The Hays Daily News

While fall brings focus to football and pumpkins, many folks have already set their sights on Christmas by joining the world's largest Christmas project, Operation Christmas Child, in packing 8 million gift-filled shoe boxes for children in more than 100 countries.

Shoe boxes are wrapped and filled with simple items most people take for granted, including toothpaste, toys and school supplies. The shoe boxes are then hand-delivered to children around the world suffering from poverty, disease, war and natural disaster. For many of these children, the simple shoe box will be the first gift they have ever received.

In 2010, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect more than 8 million shoe box gifts.

Anyone can participate in Operation Christmas Child. The project is a massive, year-round effort, requiring months of organization and preparation. In addition to collecting shoe box gifts year-round at the headquarters in Boone, N.C., Samaritan's Purse will be collecting gift-filled shoe boxes at more than 2,700 drop-off sites in all 50 states during National Collection Week, Nov. 15 to 22.

Samaritan's Purse uses tracking technology that allows donors to "follow your box" to the destination country, where it will be hand-delivered to a child in need. Using the EZ Give donation form found at www.samari tanspurse.org, families can register their boxes and find out where in the world their boxes brought joy to children.

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call local volunteer Deb White at (785) 625-2847 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.