Special to The Hays Daily News

There are tens of millions of children in developing countries who have never attended school. While a number of factors contribute to a lack of education among children in developing nations, one key component is access to basic school supplies.

However, this back-to-school season, Hays parents, kids and teens are looking beyond their own school supply lists and making a difference in the lives of needy kids overseas. By maximizing back-to-school sales, Hays families are stocking up on items for Operation Christmas Child, a year-round project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, headed by Franklin Graham.

Participants fill shoeboxes with school materials, toys, necessity items and letters of encouragement for children in poverty around the world.

This shoebox-packing effort, requiring months of organization and preparation, is expected to bless more than 9 million children this year suffering the effects of natural disaster, disease, war, terrorism, famine and poverty.

In 2012, Operation Christmas Child anticipates reaching a milestone -- collecting and delivering shoe boxes to more than 100 million children since the project began in 1993. 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 of these children, the shoe box will be the first gift they have ever received.

How to help

Prepare: Help enlist families, churches, Scout troops, community groups and businesses to take advantage of back-to-school sales by collecting school supplies for shoebox gifts.

Pack: During National Collection Week (Nov. 12 to 19), fill shoeboxes with school materials, toys, necessity items and a letter of encouragement and drop it off at a collection site near you. Step-by-step shoebox packing instructions are available at www.samaritanspurse.org/OCC.

By using special tracking technology, participants can "follow" their shoebox and discover the country where their gift will be hand-delivered to a child in need. To register your shoebox gift, use the "Follow Your Box" form online.

Volunteer: Volunteers are needed year-round. For volunteer opportunities, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/OCC and click on "Volunteer" for more details and information.

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