NEW FRANKLIN  Local residents can put a smile on the face of a child in one of 150 countries living in the midst of poverty, war, disease or natural disaster by donating shoeboxes for the Samaritan’s Purse project, Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind.

During National Collection Week from Nov. 13-20, Grace Bible Church, 5781 Manchester Road, New Franklin, will serve as a drop-off location to receive filled shoeboxes filled with supplies, which will be distributed to children in need from ages 2 through 14.

Cynthia Mathias, team leader for Operation Christmas Child, said this year’s goal is 1,000 shoeboxes to be received. That goal was exceeded in 2016, when Grace Bible Church collected more than 1,200. Children who receive the shoeboxes, delivered between January and April, can then participate at their local church in a Samaritans Purse ministry program called 12 Lessons of God’s Love, Mathias said.

"The shoebox is the key to opening their heart to the love of Jesus Christ," she added.

Mathias encourages residents, from Boy Scout and Girl Scout Troops to local businesses and fraternal organizations, to donate shoeboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene items, notes of encouragement and fun toys, such as a doll or soccer ball.

"Some of the items children can use are school supplies such as blunt scissors, pencils, erasers and rulers with metric," Mathias said. "Children in many of these countries cannot attend school unless they have their own supplies."

Those donating a completed shoebox, can create one for a child in any of three age groups; ages two to four; ages five to nine and ages 10 thru 14. Mathias said a child always likes to receive a "wow" item, something that will put an extra smile on their face. Mathias said the only items prohibited are candy (of any kind) and toothpaste. Those items have an expiration date and slow down the customs process.

Pastors in the receiving countries communicate with national leadership teams for Samaritan’s Purse as to the number of shoeboxes they will need.

"The shoebox gifts donated by Akron area volunteers will serve as tangible expressions of God’s love to children living in poverty overseas," said Grace Bible Church Children’s Ministry Director Beckey Lebo, who has participated in Operation Christmas Child for more than 20 years. "Anyone is welcome to pack a shoebox. Please donate $9 for shipping, if you can, and bring it to our drop off location at Grace Bible Church to help a child facing difficult circumstances feel loved and not forgotten."

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call 330-882-4416 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.