Members of Salem Bible Fellowship Church in Mahoning Township have the Christmas spirit all year long.
Each week church members donate an item that finds its way inside a shoebox as part of the annual Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child project.
Elizabeth Fritz, 24, of Lehighton, is the coordinator at her church, where she collects items and packs the shoe boxes with the help of other church members.
As church coordinator, she is responsible for making up a list that congregation members follow to contribute an item each month throughout the year.
They collect small toys, school supplies and individually wrapped hard candy, as well as personal items, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks and hats, crayons and other art supplies.
"Then everyone takes part in packing day," said Fritz. "That's the day when the shoeboxes are packed for delivery to a child somewhere around the world."
Fritz also serves as local relay coordinator for Carbon County and the surrounding area at Salem Bible Fellowship Church, where other organizations, churches and individuals can bring their wrapped shoe boxes for distribution.
"I want to stress other churches and local organization groups do not need to spend a lot of money to mail the boxes to the collection center," she said.
"They can save the postage costs by dropping off their filled shoe boxes right here at Salem Church and we'll take care of it. We'll see that it is moved along to the next leg of the journey."
Fritz said during the week of Nov. 18-25, the shoe boxes are picked up and taken to the Stroudsburg regional center.
People can drop off wrapped shoe boxes from 6-8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, through Friday, Nov. 22; from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23; from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24. The final day is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25.
Filled shoe boxes are taken to the 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 shoe boxes 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 16 years that members of the church have been participating in the Operation Christmas Child shoe box project.
As a relay center, Fritz accepts shoe boxes from about 10 local churches who have adopted the project.
Last year, Salem Church accepted 777 boxes for distribution and Salem Church members alone filled over a hundred of those boxes through donations from the congregation. Before shipping, each shoe box is 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 shoe box, from the time it leaves the church, is only handled by Samaritan's Purse volunteers until it is placed in the hands of the child 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."
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, a 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 president and chairman of the Board of Samaritan's Purse.
He has led the ministry in following the Biblical example of the Good Samaritan all across the globe.
"Anyone churches, organizations or individuals can do it," she said.