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This year, Grove Stone Baptist Church in Black Mountain will be one of eight local drop-off locations for Operation Christmas Child, an annual event that encourages people to pack shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement for disadvantaged children around the world. National Collection Week is Nov. 14-21.

“Think of a child who’s never had a toy or any kind of gift,” said Jennifer Ogle, who is coordinating the Grove Stone Baptist drop-off.

Donors can pack the items in a shoebox of their own (no boot boxes, organizers say), or pick one up at the church. Operation Christmas Child (samaritanspurse.org) is a project of Samaritan’s Purse and is the largest Christmas project of its kind in the world. Since the project began in 1993, more than 135 million children in more than 150 countries and territories have received shoebox gifts. Participating with U.S. contributors are those in Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Grove Stone Baptist has participated in Operation Christmas Child for six years, and this is the first year it is hosting the drop-off spot. The program has grown every year at the church, said Ogle, a pharmacy tech at Mission Hospital.

“Buying school supplies and watching for clearance sales - it gets addictive,” she said. “You’re always wondering, can we pack one more box?”

The church, created in 1938, packs about 300 boxes every year, but hopes to send out 500 this year, she said. Organizers ask that spillable liquids such as shampoo and meltable candy like chocolate not be included in the donations.

Something as simple as a shower curtain can make a big difference in a child’s life, Ogle said. “You can make a fort out of it. Or it might be the only privacy a young girl has in her house,” she said.

Donors pack boxes for a boy or a girl by age range and are encouraged to include one “wow” items, such as a stuffed animal. Age ranges are 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14. Organizers have guidelines on the Samaritan’s Purse website for what to pack; they suggest donors also pack $7 to handle shipping costs. If they want, donors can request information about where their box went and when it got there. If they include a note with their address, sometimes they get responses from recipients, Ogle said.

“One year my letter (came back) in French, and I had to remember why I failed French,” she quipped.

Collection hours at Grove Stone Baptist are 2-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday, 2-6 p.m. Sunday and noon-3 p.m. on Nov. 21. The church will open its drop-off site Nov. 14 with a 2 p.m. ribbon cutting and prayer.

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