More than 100 volunteers and donations from Lake area communities and businesses worked the Christmas miracle of love into empty shoeboxes, filling 1,884 with items including fun toys and school and hygiene supplies.

Some people might bemoan Christmas creep - the interference of Christmas with the celebration of Thanksgiving - but for the local volunteers of Samaritan’s Purse, Christmas starts early and they’re thankful for that.

It all works out because Santa’s helpers from the Lake area get together before the holiday season gets in full swing in order to turn empty boxes into treasured gifts for children in need around the world.

A “packing party” for Operation Christmas Child was held Saturday, Nov. 11, at The Exchange in Camdenton. More than 100 volunteers and donations from Lake area communities and businesses worked the Christmas miracle of love into empty shoeboxes, filling 1,884 with items including fun toys and school and hygiene supplies.

These shoeboxes will be shipped and carried into areas of the world where children are being impacted by war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine. The world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child aims to bless kids in need everywhere.

Lake area residents participated in this international movement not only volunteering to fill boxes at the local packing party but also through contributions from local businesses in Camdenton, Osage Beach, Lake Ozark, Sunrise Beach, Laurie and Eldon. Every item for all 1,884 boxes was the result of the generosity of local businesses, according to a press release from the local arm of the project.

“This is our fifth year of doing the event and it is great opportunity to come together as a community and give back in such a simple and powerful way,” said Community Relations Coordinator Keith Feco. “Every shoebox gift, often the first gift a child ever receives, is not just about the items placed inside, but about demonstrating the truth of God’s love.”

For Feco, it is his fifth year as a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child. In five years he has collected over 6,300 shoebox gifts for children in need. Feco’s wife, Linda, their daughter, Julie and son-in-law, Billy, as well as their grandkids, Connor and Brianna, also serve as year-round volunteers.

“I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of donations from our community. It is so very humbling. With just a small shoebox we can change a child’s life forever,” said Feco.

This year the Lake of the Ozarks Area Team hopes to collect 13,000 shoebox gifts.

Collection for shoebox gifts continues with the public being asked to chip in with donations this week, Nov. 13-20. Anyone interested can drop off gifts at Spirit FM in Camdenton; The Rock House in Linn Creek; Trinity Southern Baptist in Versailles; Smith Paper in Eldon; First Baptist in Richland; First Baptist in Iberia; First Baptist in Vienna and Community Christian in Linn. For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child or to view gift suggestions, call 573-480-3176 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.

Samaritan’s Purse is an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world and, together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 146 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories.