A simple shoebox can make a difference in the life of a child, especially when it's an Operation Christmas Child gift box.

Through this project, shoe boxes are filled with toys and gifts are distributed to children in over 100 countries who have endured poverty, disease and disaster and may otherwise never experience the joys of Christmas.

Members of Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Mahoning Township have been participating in the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox project for the past 14 years.

Elizabeth Fritz, who has served as the relay center coordinator for the past four years, said that Salem has accepted 844 boxes for distribution this year. Other local churches participated in the project, including Faith Alive and Emmanuel UCC, both of Bowmanstown; First Congregational Church, Jim Thorpe; Jerusalem Lutheran Church, Palmerton; St. Peter UMC, Emerald; and Hope of Christ, Summit Hill.

Salem Church members alone filled 120 of those boxes by bringing a designated item each Sunday and then helping fill the boxes. Each box is wrapped in brightly-colored Christmas wrapping paper and carefully packed into one of many large Operation Christmas Child corrugated boxes for distribution.

Thousands of people fill Samaritan's Purse shoeboxes full of toys and gifts each year, bringing joy to millions of children. The boxes collected at the church last week are already on their way to spread joy to the children.

The children are also offered Gospel booklets and later, local churches provide a Bible study course through their discipleship program.

Each shoebox, from the time it leaves the church, is only handled by Samaritan's Purse staff until it is placed in the hands of that young boy or girl who will receive it.

Fritz said that the boxes are shipped to the distribution center in North Carolina and then around the world.

"They go wherever there is a need," she said.