A shoebox can make a difference in the life of a child, especially when it is an Operation Christmas Child gift-filled shoebox.

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are lovingly stuffed full of all sorts of surprises, from small toys and toiletries to school supplies, and anything in between.

Each box is then individually wrapped and marked with an appropriate age and gender of a child. The boxes are taken to a drop-off point, such as Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Mahoning Township, where the Rev. Robert Johnson, pastor, has been overseeing the project for the past 11 years.

"Every box also contains at least a little candy," said Johnson.

This year, the Salem congregation relied on Thomas Fritz, a senior at Lehighton Area High School who organized the hundreds of boxes that came into the church as his senior project. At Lehighton, seniors are required to provide at least 50 hours of community service as a graduation requirement.

Fritz spent at least 60 hours on the project, including training other volunteers who assisted in the project. Careful records were kept on the incoming boxes before they were sent on their way to East Stroudsburg, one of 2,400 collection sites in the United States. From there, the boxes, along with those from other collection sites in the eastern region, were sent to in Boone, N.C., the East Coast processing center.

In a few short weeks, the shoe boxes will be hand-delivered to children around the world by any means necessary, including sea containers, trucks, trains, airplanes, helicopters, boats, camels, and even dog sleds.

Johnson believes Salem church collected fewer boxes this year because more churches are becoming relay centers. However, he said more boxes, not less, are being sent to children who have never received a gift.

"The children who receive the boxes are living in war torn areas, or in areas with other horrific events, such as tsunamis, hurricanes or famine," he said.

Johnson feels this project is unique because of the high integrity of its handling by Samaritan's Purse.

"Samaritan's Purse does all the processing," he said. "At no time do the boxes end up in a warehouse. From the time a box leaves the relay center, to the collection center and on to the processing center, it is handled by Samaritan's Purse."

Johnson also noted that this year, every box is marked with a UPC code that will track the box, so givers can see just which village in which country received the box.