Special to The Hays Daily News

While most people in the U.S. are preparing for holiday activities, Hays and surrounding area volunteers with Operation Christmas Child -- the world's largest Christmas project of its kind -- are filling shoebox gifts with toys, school supplies and hygiene items for needy children overseas.

This year-round project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, is ramping up for National Collection Week from Nov. 12 to 19.

Anyone can drop off a packed shoebox at the Hays-area collection site at Messiah Lutheran Church, 2000 Main. Hours of operation will be 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12, 14 and 16; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 13 and 15; and noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 17 to 19. Then, using whatever means necessary -- trucks, trains, boats, bikes and even elephants -- the shoebox gifts will be hand-delivered to hurting children in 100 countries around the world.

Additional local collection sites can be found using the online Zip Code locator at www.samaritanspurse.org.

In 2012, Operation Christmas Child expects to reach a milestone -- collecting and delivering shoeboxes to more than 100 million children since 1993. During that time, Operation Christmas Child has collected more than 94 million shoebox gifts and hand-delivered them to suffering children in more than 130 countries.

This year, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect another 9 million gift-filled shoeboxes. Through the power of a simple gift and the message of hope through Jesus Christ, children learn they are loved and not forgotten. For many children, the shoebox gift will be the first gift they ever have received.

Operation Christmas Child uses tracking technology to allow participants to "follow" their box to the destination country where it will be given to a child in need. To register shoebox gifts and find out the destination country, use the "Follow Your Box" donation form found at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call the local area volunteer, Rachel Albin, at (785) 639-1325 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. National Collection Week for gift-filled shoeboxes is Nov. 12-19; however, shoebox gifts are collected all year at the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C.