By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – Even though Christmas is still a month away, the holiday season is on the minds of thousands of volunteers around the globe as they prepare for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child (OCC), the world’s largest Christmas project.
Local volunteers have been busy preparing collection sites around the country to receive some 6,100 gift-filled shoe boxes, packed by caring individuals with toys, school supplies and necessity items for kids who are hurting in 100 countries. Since 1993, over 86 million gifts have been hand-delivered to kids world-wide.
Quidnessett Baptist Church in North Kingstown is one of four drop-off centers in the state. In 2008, Rhode Island was able to fill 2,000 boxes. In 2009, that amount doubled. Last year, it reached 5,700 and now Cheryl Boyer, volunteer coordinator for North Kingstown, is hoping to reach 7,500 complete boxes this year.
“These children have nothing,” she said. “So when they receive a toothbrush or a ball, they’re ecstatic. It doesn’t take much to brighten the children up.”
Boxes are filled with donations of dolls, stuffed animals, jump ropes, pens, pencils, crayons, coloring books, toothbrushes, soap, hard candy, clothing, hair clips, flashlights and much more.
“When I saw the video about how these boxes impact the children’s lives I started crying,” volunteer Mary Cottrell said. “It also shows the children that God loves them and to have hope.”
As of Monday evening, the Quidnessett location had filled over 900 boxes. The boxes won’t reach the children by Christmas because of the remote locations they’ll be going to but, rather, they will receive them throughout the year. Boyer remembers boxes being shipped to Haiti, Sudan and Malawi in previous years.
OCC uses whatever means necessary to reach suffering children around the world with gifts of hope. Gifts are transported by sea, containers, trucks, trains, airplanes, boats, camels and dog sleds.
People who donate are also able to track their box to see what country it will be hand-delivered to, with some even putting hand-written letters in the boxes requesting pen pals.
The time to drop off a box at area locations is done, but it’s not too late to pack a shoe box. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of gifts and a box will be made and sent for you just by visiting www.samaritanspurse.org/occ  until Dec. 31.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to “demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Samaritan’s Purse began in 1970 when Bob Pierce visited suffering children on the Korean island of Kojedo. His mission has always been to “meet emergency needs in crisis areas through exiting evangelical mission agencies and national churches.”
Samaritan’s Purse travels the world’s highways looking for victims along the way.
For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org .