Area residents and members of many countywide congregations are preparing to bring joy to a hurting world this Christmas by packing and collecting shoe box gifts for hurting children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.

Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park Campground, 3076 95th Drive, will be open to receive gift-filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child during the project's National Collection Week, November 14-21, 2005. Local hours of operation will be Monday-Monday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

This is Spirit of the Suwannee's seventh year as a Collection Center for Operation Christmas Child, a project that encourages children, families, churches and groups to fill empty shoe boxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, photos and personal letters, then hand-delivers them to children worldwide suffering from poverty, war, disease, natural disaster and terrorism.

Last year, the park collected 13,430 gift-filled boxes from Live Oak residents and surrounding areas and has set a goal of 15,500 shoe box gifts for 2005.

Over 7.4 million gift-filled shoe boxes were collected worldwide last year, and distributed to children in more than 90 countries. This year's international goal is to collect and distribute 7.8 million shoe box gifts. Packed with love and sent with prayer, Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts have brightened the lives of more than 38 million children since 1993.

"This simple and fun project gives people right here in this community a chance to bring a smile to the face of a child very far away from them," said Susanne Price, Operation Christmas Child Florida Regional Director. "By taking the time to pack these gifts and pray over them as we drop them off to be sent around the world, we want to show hurting children that they are loved, and that they are not forgotten."

"This is our seventh year as a Collection Center, and everyone is excited to be involved with Operation Christmas Child. We are particularly pleased to see the children of this community reaching out to other kids through this program. We pray that this year, there will be even more people in our community involved in Operation Christmas Child," said Vickie Clayton, who is volunteering as the Collection Center Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child.

Operation Christmas Child is the world's largest international children's Christmas project. Gift-filled shoe boxes have been a source of hope and joy to children suffering from some of life's hardest circumstances: those living among civil war in the Darfur region of western Sudan, children who survived last September's terrorist attack in Beslan, Russia, those recovering from war in Kosovo and Bosnia, and children whose lives were changed forever by last December's tsunami in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism ministry headed by Franklin Graham. For more information about Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park's participation in Operation Christmas Child, call 386-792-3210. For more information about Operation Christmas Child, or to receive free materials, call 1-800-353-5949 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.

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