PLATTSBURGH - The First Assembly of God has been helping less fortunate children overseas for the past 10 years, and it's a tradition that continues.
Since 1999, the Prospect Avenue church has been collecting shoe boxes full of school supplies, hygiene products and toys for needy children as part of Operation Christmas Child. The project is a philanthropic effort overseen by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, explained Rita D. Alford, coordinator for the local church's collection center.
The First Assembly of God first became involved as a relay center, receiving donations from people in the area. The donations were then sent on to a collection center in Albany, where they were then packed and transported to the headquarters of Samaritan's Purse in Boone, N.C. The boxes were then sent to destinations around the globe.
In recent years, efforts at the First Assembly of God have grown and the church today serves as a collection center. Donations are taken in from relay centers in Saranac Lake, Malone and Massena, and are then transported directly from Plattsburgh to Boone for worldwide distribution.
Since 1993, when Operation Christmas Child was first established Samaritan's Purse, chief executive officer Franklin Graham, son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, the organization has collected 69 million shoe boxes. Last year, more than 8 million shoe boxes were collected internationally for Operation Christmas Child, with approximately 5 million coming from the United States alone. The Plattsburgh collection center transported 4,202 of those shoe boxes to the distribution center in North Carolina.
This year, Alford wants those numbers to grow.
"Eight million sounds like a lot, but it's really not compared to the amount of children born every year [in developing countries]," said Alford. "In India alone, there are an estimated 28 million babies born a year ... so if every man, woman, boy and girl in this country packed a shoe box, it wouldn't even be enough for every child in India under 14 years of age."