For the first time ever, a southern end church has become the collection site for an international Christmas ministry that delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, candy and other small gifts to children who otherwise would not receive any presents.

New Providence Church of God, 269 Cinder Road, New Providence, is now Lancaster County's official collection site for Operation Christmas Child for needy children in 94 countries.

The annual shoe box drive - with collections being accepted through Monday, Nov. 20 - is part of a ministry of the nonprofit international Christian relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, headed by Franklin Graham.

Children, families, churches and groups fill empty shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, photos and personal letters, and Operation Christmas Child delivers them around the world to girls and boys 2 to 14 years old suffering from poverty, war, disease, disaster and terrorism.

The church became the collection site after Jennifer Wagner of South Church Street in Quarryville was searching the Internet looking for a project to teach the children in the day care she runs about the spirit of giving at Christmastime.

"I contacted them and found out they lost their Lancaster collection center and were looking for a new church and new coordinators," said Wagner, who along with her husband Ryan, have become the new coordinators of the project.

"This is a great opportunity to involve the whole community in a project that touches the lives of children away from us," said Wagner. "The Lancaster community is making an impact by showing hurting children that they are loved and are not forgotten through this fun and tangible project."

The Wagners sent 450 letters to churches around the county to let them know about the project and the new collection site. Smith Middle School is also collecting gift-filled show boxes.

Operation Christmas Child has handed out more than 46 million shoe box gifts since 1993 and last year reached over 7.6 million children in 95 countries.

"This year they'd like to send out 8 million boxes," said Wagner, whose day care children have been bringing shoe boxes. "It's good for the kids packing boxes - it makes them realize what they have here."

Every Wednesday night, 150 children in grades three through sixth from the AWANA club, and their leaders, have been packing shoe boxes at New Providence Church of God.

The church will be open to receive boxes Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m., to noon and again from 6 to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Monday from 9 to 10 a.m.

The boxes don't have to be wrapped and plastic tubs can be used instead of shoe boxes, said Wagner.

"Samaritan's Purse does include a Christian-oriented booklet and offers a 12-session Bible school in their home country," said Ryan Wagner.

Children are encouraged to write a letter or send a picture of themselves along with the shoe boxes and the children from other countries will write letters back.

For more information, call the Wagners at 786-2668 or the church at 786-5580.

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