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Operation Christmas Child begins

Stacks of brightly colored Christmas-wrapped boxes sat at the end of a long row of tables Saturday at First Southern Baptist Church.

For some, Christmas may seem far enough away that gift-wrapping just doesn’t come to mind. But for a group of volunteers, Saturday was the start of something big — and precious.

Each year for the last several years, the church has particpated in Operation Christmas Child, which gives Christmas gifts to children around the world in an effort to spread the gospel of Christ. In among the teddy bears and school supplies, each gift box contains the story of Christ in that child’s own language in hopes that the real meaning of Christmas finds its way across the miles and into the heart of that child.

For the last two years, the church has been a relay station for Operation Christmas Child. Other area churches taking part may drop their collection of boxes there. The load will eventually make its way to Boone, N.C., one of the national distribution points and eventually to homes in more than 90 countries. The deadline for other churches to get their boxes to First Southern Baptist Church is Nov. 23.

Saturday was the church’s kickoff to its 2008 effort. Volunteers spent the morning assembling crayons, notebooks and stuffed animals in boxes marked “boy” or “girl.”

“We want to try and do 100 boxes today,” church relay coordinator Daphne Duncan said. “Other churches will bring their boxes in and members of our church will bring theirs in.”

Sara Eckert was one of the volunteers.

“I just enjoy doing this,” she said. “You see those films where the kids get their boxes and it’s a real blessing.”

Though no bigger than, well, a shoe box, Duncan said the gift to a child who may never have heard of Jesus can reap big rewards — and that is what she and other volunteers hope for.

“It’s that one child,” she said. “To get even one child into heaven, it’s worth doing all of this.”