Elizabeth Fritz, 23, of Lehighton has Christmas spirit all year long.
As coordinator of Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoe box project for the past five years, Fritz feels the love that passes from those who put small items into a shoebox to a child who has nothing.
"I'm the coordinator responsible for the local relay center here at Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Mahoning Township," she said. "Our committee has decided to share the story of Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoe box program with the community so that if anyone wants to participate, they have time to help."
She is hoping that individuals, clubs and service organizations join in and fill some shoe boxes or donate funds toward the cost of sending the shoe boxes all around the world. It costs approximately $7 to ship each shoebox.
Since April, Fritz has been giving suggestions on a monthly basis to the congregation of items to bring to church.
"I try to pick items that are on sale, such as in September, I ask them to bring school supplies, which are marked down," she said.
She said that school supplies are especially sought after items, but also needed are toiletries, such as soap, hand made socks and hats, small toys, crayons and hard candies - anything that is small enough to fit into a shoe box.
Through this project, shoe boxes are filled with these small items and are distributed to children in over 100 countries who have endured poverty, disease and disaster and may otherwise never experience the joys of Christmas. Some shoe boxes are distributed here in the United States.
"We then schedule a packing party, when we pack the shoe boxes with the items collected here at the church," she said. "Some groups and individuals also pack boxes. Some of the ladies in the church crochet hats all year long for our shoe boxes."
Then during the week of Nov. 12 and 19, the filled shoe boxes are picked up here to be taken to the Stroudsburg regional center. Then they are taken to main center in Boone, N.C., where they are processed to be distributed throughout the world. The boxes filled locally are among the thousands of Samaritan's Purse shoeboxes full of toys and gifts each year, which spread joy to millions of children all over the world.
The children are also offered Gospel booklets and later, local churches provide a Bible study course through their discipleship program.
This marks 15 years that members of Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Mahoning Township have been participating in the Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox project. As a relay center, Fritz accepts shoe boxes from approximately 10 local churches who have adopted the project.
Last year, Salem Church accepted 844 boxes for distribution and Salem Church members alone filled 120 of those boxes through donations from the congregation. Before shipping, each shoe box is then wrapped in brightly-colored Christmas wrapping paper, identified whether it is to go to a boy or girl, and carefully packed into one of many large Operation Christmas Child corrugated boxes for distribution.
Each shoebox, from the time it leaves the church, is only handled by Samaritan's Purse volunteers until it is placed in the hands of that young boy or girl who will receive it.
"They go wherever there is a need," she said.
"The reason I like Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child so much is that everything is all done by volunteers," she said. "From the packing to the distribution, no paid hands touch the boxes," she said.
The project was conceived by Bob Pierce after visiting suffering children on the Korean island of Kojedo. He founded and led the ministry of Samaritan's Purse in 1970. Pierce met his eventual successor, an adventurous young student named Franklin Graham with a growing heart for world missions. Pierce died of leukemia in 1978, and a little over a year later, Graham became the president and chairman of the Board of Samaritan's Purse. Franklin has led the ministry in following the Biblical example of the Good Samaritan all across the globe.
"Anyone can do it," she said.