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Christmas spirit in a shoebox

By ABBY BELDEN

abelden@dailynews.net

Even though Christmas is more than a month away, the giving spirit of Christmas is in full swing.

Operation Christmas Child, a project that helps needy children across the world, began its National Collection Week on Monday. Collections will end Monday.

Operation Christmas Child is one of the many outreach programs of Samaritan's Purse, an international relief and evangelical Christian organization. The organization has helped people affected by war, famine and natural disasters.

Hays has hosted a relay center since 2006.

Rachel Albin, Operation Christmas Child Relay Center coordinator, said First Presbyterian Church hosted Operation Christmas Child until 2010, when it was relocated to Messiah Lutheran Church.

"The Hays site did collect 1,253 shoeboxes last year," she said. "We are trying to do that many again."

Items such as school supplies, hygiene supplies, toys and hard candy are acceptable, and the shoebox can be sent to a specific age group of a boy or girl.

The boxes received in Hays will be taken to a processing center in Denver before being sent to children in the Philippines and Mexico.

There are processing centers located throughout the United States, each one sending shoeboxes to different areas in need.

The day was off to a slow start, until Debbie Pfannenstiel arrived.

Pfannenstiel, Damar, arrived with a car full of boxes.

Sixty shoeboxes and plastic containers to be exact.

The goal was to pack 50 boxes, but before too long, Pfannenstiel said people were running home to grab more shoeboxes.

She said boxes were put together by members of her church, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Damar.

Pfannenstiel said the church included children in the effort and used it as a lesson.

"We just felt like it was a great teaching tool for generosity," she said.

Pfannenstiel said the church received money donations from St. Anne's Sodality, the Knights of Columbus Post 2365 and the Damar Fire Department to help pay for supplies. The relay center not only needs people to donate shoeboxes full of purchased items, but also needs people to volunteer time.

Stacey Stults, Hays, has been sending packed shoeboxes with her family for several years but now also is volunteering time.

Her responsibility was packing larger boxes with the packed shoeboxes.

"It's kind of like a puzzle, where you have to get so many in," she said.

Albin said there is a suggested donation of $7 for each box given, but said boxes will be accepted without the suggested donation.

The money will go toward the project's shipping costs.

Operation Christmas Child also allows participants to track their boxes. Participants can visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ, make the suggested donation and register their shoebox.

Albin said that the children will receive the boxes around Christmas time.

After the children receive the boxes, Albin said the child then can decide if they want to take part of a program called the Greatest Journey.

"It's a 12-week program where they get to learn different Bible stories and learn about god," Albin said. "They have the chance to graduate from the program ... if they choose to accept Jesus as their lord and savior, that is when they will graduate and get that Bible."