Each year, Operation Christmas Child collects thousands of boxes from across the US and ships them overseas to children in need. The effort, supported by Samaritan's Purse, delivers the shoebox-size containers that hold a message about the Christian faith, along with toys, clothes, hygiene products, school supplies and more.
Bethel United Methodist Church in Dawsonville is entering their 7th year as the county's relay center for Operation Christmas Child boxes. This means that the church will be the collection point for all of the boxes made by individuals and organizations in Dawson County.
Relay Center Coordinator Tracie Dickerson is the project leader at Bethel, and said the church will open its doors for collection on Monday, Nov. 14 and will continue to collect until a week later on Nov. 21.
After that, the boxes will begin their journey to their destination countries. The boxes could go to any one of over 100 countries that Operation Christmas Child delivers to.
"After we collect all of the boxes that are dropped off at the church, we take them to a collection center in Gainesville," Dickerson said. "After that they go to the processing center in Duluth, which is one of only eight centers in the entire US. We're lucky to have one in our back yard."
Once the boxes are processed and any liquids or war items are removed, the boxes are put in crates and shipped out to children in need.
Shipping is $7 a box and Dickerson said that if people want to pay for shipping online, they can track the box to see where in the world it goes.
"If you put in your address you might get a thank you note or a pen pal out of it," Dickerson said. "My son got a pen pal that way and they stayed in touch for years."
Dickerson said the message the box brings is more important than the things inside.
"Each shoebox is a mission trip in a box," she said. "They are a great way to share the message of Jesus with children who have never heard of him, and show these children that someone loves them."
Dickerson said Bethel has been stuffing and collecting boxes for at least 15 years, and this year they hope to pack around 1,000 boxes.
"Every box has the power to touch eight lives because of the message it carries," Dickerson said. "Our church is trying to send 1,000 boxes. So we could potentially touch 8,000 lives- that's crazy!"
Those involved with Operation Christmas Child every year know how absorbing the process can be, and how great it is to see the community rally together to reach out to children all over the world.
Dickerson said that the members at her church collect items all year long so that they can budget for them. They even have items of the month for church members to bring in.
"We all have our closets at home that are stuffed throughout the year with items for the boxes," Dickerson said.
Even local businesses do whatever they can to support the effort. Among the stacks of boxes that were piled up in Bethel's congregation room during their packing party on Oct. 23, Clark's Outlet Store shoe boxes made up a huge percentage.
"Clark's shoe store at North Georgia Premium Outlets gives us hundreds of shoeboxes every year," Dickerson said. "The employees ask people for the shoe boxes. They're awesome, and we give them a certificate of appreciation but they really do deserve recognition."
Nov. 14 begins National Collection week for Operation Christmas Child. For more information visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.