ALAMEDA -- In order to help Santa supply children worldwide with fun gifts as well as vital items like toothbrushes, the Central Baptist Church is asking Alamedans to fill up shoe boxes and drop them by the church by Nov. 18 as part of Operation Christmas Child.

Operation Christmas Child has collected more than 94 million shoe box gifts and delivered them to children in need in more than 130 countries since 1993. This year, project volunteers hope to collect another nine million gift-filled shoe boxes.

"If people don't have a shoe box, they can just bring us things that we will pack, like new school supplies, nonmilitary toys, T-shirts, socks, personal hygiene items, hairclips, sunglasses, flashlights and even hard candy," said Stephen Jones, lead pastor of Central Baptist.

"If they like, those making donations can enjoy decorating and wrapping the shoe box and lid separately. They have to remain separate so U.S. Customs can open and inspect the donations," Jones explained.

In addition, the church asks that donors provide volunteers with $7 a box to cover shipping and handling. Donations can be tracked online, so those who give to the cause can follow their box to the destination country. (See www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. for more details.)

"We've sent the donations to South America, China, Thailand and other countries. And many donors get letters back, like we did from kids at an orphanage in the Ukraine, who later came to the United States and introduced themselves to us," the pastor said. "That was so exciting."

Donors are encouraged to write their own letters to recipients and put them in the shoe boxes. Toys and other items should be given for children ages 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14. Personal hygiene items can be given for children in any age group.

"Toothpaste and toothbrushes are very important," Jones said. "We've gotten lots of dental offices to donate."

Last year, the Alameda-based church had 135 filled shoeboxes donated for Operation Christmas Child.

"This year, we are a regional drop-off center and hope to have 1,000 filled boxes to ship," Jones said.

FYI
What: Donations for Operation Christmas Child
Where: Central Baptist Church, 2133 Central Ave.
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Nov. 12-16; 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Nov. 17; 1-6 p.m., Nov. 18.
Information: www.samaritanspurse.org