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Shoeboxes send necessities, gospel around the world

The shoeboxes are stacked 6 feet high and a good 30 yards down an entry hall. There are shoeboxes being packed into larger boxes and loaded onto dollies to be moved to the tractor-trailer trucks. There are tractor-trailer trucks already full of boxes waiting to be driven to North Carolina.

And here come more cars filled with more shoeboxes to be added to the stacks in the hall.

There was a driver who came up with one 4-year-old aboard presenting the Porter Memorial Baptist crew with one box. Then there was the small congregation of New Hope Baptist Church in Woodford County bringing 1,262 boxes, and they'd convinced another church to come along with them and bring 170 more.

And there was a woman who drove up at a temporary drop-off earlier in the week and had managed to squeeze 150 shoeboxes into a Camry.

What's in the shoeboxes?

"We put in a shirt, Crayons, pencils, soap, socks, stuffed animals and some other stuff she'd like," says Victoria Graves, 11, a Beaumont Middle School student who packed her box for a 4- to 6- year-old girl.

Victoria was wielding a big tape dispenser and prepping boxes. She was, as much as Joan of Arc wielding a sword in her day, doing what she could to spread the word of God.

This is Operation Christmas Child and each shoebox — filled with equal parts fun and necessities — will also include a pamphlet about the life of Christ for a child overseas. And, judging by how things were going late Sunday afternoon, there is no reason to suspect that the area's churches will not meet their local goal of filling 13,500 shoeboxes by Tuesday. That's when the trucks leave Lexington to go to Boone, N.C., for final processing.

It's Porter Memorial's first time to be an area donation center, serving nine counties, says Larry Cranfill, minister of missions. "For us, it's a tremendous way to get the gospel out. It places a premium on sharing the love of Christ throughout the world."

The program, which is now 16 years old and has served 75 countries, collected 8 million shoeboxes in 2008 alone. Since its inception, more than 63 million have been distributed.

David Holbrook, local coordinator at Porter, says the best part about the local program is that it's got such an ecumenical outreach. Up drives a van from Primrose labeled "New Springs United Methodist Church" just then to prove it. So, too, the Hallman family car, which brings 78 shoeboxes from St. Andrews Anglican Church in Versailles and 12 shoeboxes from the Ukranian Pentecostal Church. (The two churches are sharing a home for a time while one is building a new sanctuary.)

Hallman says St. Andrews has been filling and donating shoeboxes for children overseas for at least five years now and they make a special packing party of it for their own youth.

That way, "the kids get involved and really take ownership of the gifts to others," he said.

Six-year-old Sarah Hallman explained that "other kids don't really get toys. They have a lot less than us."

Back inside the building, Elise McKinney, 8, was working with her father to pack the shoeboxes.

Yes, she said, everybody needs to get things at Christmas time. But "everybody needs to celebrate Christ's birth," she added. "This will help."