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|Fair Park Baptist works to spread cheer|
Tens of thousands of children all over the world will receive boxes of toys thanks to efforts from several local churches and many volunteers in the community.
Members of West Monroe's Fair Park Baptist Church, located on Whites Ferry Road, have been hard at work over the past week collecting shoeboxes filled with toys and items for children.
Thousands of boxes have poured into the church's facility from other churches, schools and caring members of the community.
On Monday, those boxes were packed into large trucks and shipped to Boone, N.C. — headquarters for Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization.
Since 1994, Fair Park Baptist Church has participated in "Operation Christmas Child," which sends gift-filled shoeboxes to children around the world.
Fair Park Baptist Church's Cherie King said for some children the shoeboxes they will receive will mark the first time they've ever received gifts.
According to Samaritan's Purse, one of the goals of the project is to "focus on the true meaning of Christmas — Jesus Christ."
Fair Park Baptist Church began accepting shoeboxes Monday, Nov. 17. The West Monroe church served as a drop-off point for all of northeast Louisiana.
Each year, more and more people fill up shoeboxes to give to Samaritan's Purse, King said. This year has been no different.
"Last year, our collection center had about 10,500 boxes filled with anything you can give to a child," King said. "People give different things."
When the boxes are distributed to various countries, children are given a Bible, written in their language, along with another book about Christ's life.
"They say that most of the kids that these go to have never received gifts before," King said.
The children are given the shoeboxes during spring, but for local churches, the gifts represent another way to spread Christmas joy and the meaning of Christmas to others.
Jane Peterson, a member of the church, got Fair Park involved in Operation Christmas Child in 1994 after her mother saw a commercial about the project on television.
The first year they gathered about 25 shoeboxes.
"She thought that was just wonderful, but she never thought it would take off like this," King said. "She was about to cry today when she saw a second truck get full. It's bigger than we ever thought it would be.
"Our church is very mission-oriented, and this is just another branch of missionary work we can do without ever having to leave the country. You're actually being a missionary by packing a box, and you never have to leave your home. Anybody can do it."
As a mother of three children, King cannot imagine not being able to buy her children a toy, but she knows many people around the world face that bleak reality.
"Most of the people who get these boxes … they don't have anything," King explained. "It means a lot to me to know I am able to give to mine, plus somebody else's. I got a letter from a child in India who said it encouraged her to know that people loved her."
She hopes more schools and organizations like the Boy Scouts will get involved with Samaritan's Purse and have "shoebox packing parties."
"All groups with kids could have these parties where each kid could bring a few items to put in the boxes," she said. "That really would teach the kids the meaning of giving. I really think that's important that we teach them that."
For more information about Samaritan's Purse and Operation Christmas Child, visit the organization's web site at www.samaritanspurse.org.