Christmas is arriving early all over Lehighton, as a local church prepares to serve as a collection point for Operation Christmas Child.

Soon, with the help of Lehighton volunteers, the site will be brimming with festively wrapped shoe boxes full of gifts.

Through Operation Christmas Child, the world's largest Christmas project, Lehighton residents are packing shoe box gifts for children in more than 100 countries suffering from natural disaster, war, terrorism, disease, famine and poverty.

From Lehighton, the shoe box gifts will be sorted and sent using whatever means necessarysea containers, trucks, trains, airplanes, boats, camels, even dog sledsto reach suffering children around the world.

"Through this project, anyone can be a part of giving love and hope in a shoe box," said Robert Johnson II, Operation Christmas Child drop-off site coordinator.

"Those who help at the Lehighton drop-off location find it fun to watch as filled shoe boxes stack up that have been donated by our generous community."

Operation Christmas Child uses tracking technology that allows donors to "follow your box" to the destination country where it will be hand-delivered to a child in need.

To register shoe box gifts and find out where they are delivered, use the EZ Give donation form, which can be found by visiting www.samaritanspurse.org [1].

The local collection site again this year will be Salem Bible Fellowship Church, 1105 Frederick's Grove Rd., Lehighton; (800) 528-3096. Hours will be Monday, Nov. 16 through Friday, Nov. 20, from, 6:30-8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 21, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 22, from 2-3 p.m.

In 2008, the Lehighton area contributed 872 shoe box gifts to the Operation Christmas Child effort.

This year, organizers hope to collect 1,000 gift-filled shoe boxes from families, kids, churches, schools and civic organizations in the area.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, a project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan's Purse, headed by Franklin Graham, has delivered more than 69 million gift-filled shoe boxes to needy children in some 130 countries.

What you can doto get involved

Ÿ Prepare: Enlist families, churches, scout troops, community groups and businesses to take part in creating shoe box gifts for needy children worldwide.

Ÿ Pack: Fill shoe boxes with school supplies, toys, necessity items, hard candy and a letter of encouragement. Step-by-step packing instructions can be found at www.samaritanspurse.org [1].

Ÿ Process: Sign up to join Operation Christmas Child volunteers at collection sites in Pennsylvania as part of the effort to prepare millions of shoe box gifts for delivery to underprivileged kids on six continents.

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call (410) 442-3701 or visit the Web site.

National Collection Week is Nov. 16-23.