Two local churches from Smyrna and Townsend are coming together to spread some Christmas cheer and the love of Jesus through Operation Christmas Child.

Operation Christmas Child is a project organized by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization. The project sends needy children in distressed countries a shoebox full of Christmas gifts.

First Presbyterian Church in Smyrna and Townsend Free Will Baptist Church have been busily working to pack the shoeboxes before the deadline.

First Presbyterian Church Pastor Rev. Dr. John Riley said the church has participated in the program for roughly 18 years and sends about 70 to 80 boxes each year.

"We participate in it because it allows us to spread the love and joy of the birth of Christ to people around the world. The birth of Jesus is for everyone beyond just the local children," Riley said.

To prepare for packing the shoeboxes, members of the church donate various items including games, candy, toothpaste, washcloths and more. Children in the Sunday School then put together the packages as a community service project. Over the years, the project has evolved to packing the gifts in storage boxes so it's easier to take a part and less likely to disintegrate.

"The children show great enthusiasm for this," Riley said. "They're excited to help children like themselves who aren't as blessed as them."

Members of Townsend Free Will Baptist Church have also been involved in Operation Christmas Child for quite some time.

Media Coordinator Rose Weber has been working with the church on the project for four years but participated herself long before that. She said the church is expected to send more than 5,000 boxes this year. The Central Delmar Team of Operation Christmas Child is expected to send 18,000 shoebox gifts.

Their gifts include towels, gloves, school supplies and more. The gifts have gone to countries like Uganda and Ukraine.

Kathe Wagner, the central Delmar area coordinator, has personally dropped off these gifts in the past, including a trip to Uganda. One 11-year-old boy chose the washcloth as his favorite gift because his family members had to share a towel and since he was usually the last to use it, it was always too wet to dry him off.

In one instance a 14-year-old was ecstatic to receive school supplies because it meant he could go back to school.

"He was so grateful and so overcome with gratitude he could hardly talk," Wagner said.

The deadline to submit shoebox gifts is coming up as the gifts need to be sent to the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C. and then shipped overseas.

Collection sites will be open Monday, Nov. 18 through Monday, Nov. 25 to receive packaged shoe boxes.

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