Antoinette Grigg, center, and two volunteers wrap presents in Bethel Baptist Church Friday morning for Operation Christmas Child. (Emily Russo Miller Photo)
Christmas is still more than a month away, but local churches are already donating gifts for needy children. Grace Community Church on West Mescalero Road and Bethel Baptist Chuch on North Garden Avenue are participating in Operation Christmas Child, one of the worldâ€™s largest Christmas projects for children by an international Christian relief group.
Roughly 20 volunteers converted the Baptist churchâ€™s back room into a miniature version of Santaâ€™s workshop Friday morning, stuffing shoe boxes full of Beanie Babies and candy. The gifts go to children across 100 countries, who are victims of natural disaster, war, terrorism, disease, famine and poverty.
â€œI thought it was a wonderful project,â€â€ˆBetty Abbott, director of womens missions at Bethel Baptist, said.
Abbott first heard of the program 17 years ago when she saw a segment about it on TV.
â€œIâ€ˆsaw it and I thought we have to do that,â€ she said.
The volunteers made age- and gender-specific shoe boxes for the children, and added coloring books, crayons, soap, toothpaste and combs to every box. Girls ages five through nine received a jump rope, Magic Flute, and jewelry; boys of the same age group received a toy car and a baseball.
â€œCan you imagine how many children around the world are happy to get a box on Christmas morning?â€ one volunteer asked another while giftwrapping.
Last year, the church filled about 440 boxes for the same project, a huge increase from the 12 shoe boxes the group did during its first effort 17 years ago. As of Friday morning, the volunteers had already filled about 300 boxes.
â€œItâ€™s just a wonderful thing that a child can get something on Christmas morning,â€â€ˆByllie Porter, a volunteer and member of Baptist Church for four years, said.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritanâ€™s Purse, an evangelism organization founded by Franklin Graham in 1970. According to the website, more than 8 million children in 130 countries received shoe boxes last year.