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Operation Christmas Child Officially Under Way
Escalon Covenant Church is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Brightly decorated shoeboxes, stacked up in the shape of a Christmas tree, are in the foyer. Shipping supplies and holiday photos are in evidence and it's about to get even busier.

Operation Christmas Child for the region will have its headquarters at the church, 1155 Escalon Ave., with a National Collection Week upcoming.

"Operation Christmas Child is part of Samaritan's Purse, a world relief organization," explained Cheryl Degerman, serving this year as the Relay Center Coordinator.

The church will be that Relay Center, where shoeboxes of gifts for youngsters in need can be dropped off for distribution at the holidays. At Escalon Covenant, they will be prepared for shipment, first via truck, then on to a wider distribution center.

"This was started by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham," Degerman said. "It has been going on for 20 years now."

Relay Center hours for the National Collection Week, Monday, Nov. 12 through Monday, Nov. 19 are: Monday, Nov. 12 and Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 8 a.m. to noon; Wednesday, Nov. 14, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, Nov. 15 and 16, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 17, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Monday, Nov. 19, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"We do have some boxes here but individuals are also encouraged to use regular shoeboxes," Degerman said.

They can be covered with wrapping paper but the box and the top must be wrapped separately so the packages can be inspected prior to shipping.

The goal is to provide a little holiday joy to children who might not otherwise have any gifts for the holiday season. Hygiene items from washcloths to hair bands, toothpaste and toothbrush to bars of soap are welcome, in addition to school supplies like colored pencils, erasers, solar calculators and paper. Age appropriate jewelry can be sent, hand held games, T-shirts, dolls, stuffed animals, hard candy; there is a wide variety of items that can be stuffed into a shoebox. Items not to include are glass objects, liquids, lotions, food, vitamins and war-related toys or figures.

"These go all over the world and right here in the United States," Degerman said of reaching youngsters and teens in need. "They are for truly needy situations, they will go to kids that have nothing or virtually nothing."

A note is also included to let recipients know that "Jesus loves you," Degerman said, and offers a 12-week Bible study class that recipients can choose to attend.

"If they want to do that, at the end they receive a Bible in their own language," she added.

Through the use of the gift boxes, Degerman said they hope to share the love of God and hope for the holidays with those less fortunate.

Anyone can fill a box and can choose the age range and whether they want to fill a box for a boy or girl. A donation of $7 to help cover the cost of shipping will also allow donors to 'track their box' and see when and where it arrives.

Volunteers can also stop by the Relay Center during the National Collection Week to lend a hand.

"Come join us," Degerman said. "It's truly about community and just loving these kids."