One shoebox at a time, the Upper Room Tabernacle Church, 437 N. Sandusky St., is sending smiles to those in need.
Since 2010, the church has served as a relay station for donations to Operation Christmas Child, a global Christmas project of the Samaritan's Purse that collects gift-filled shoeboxes to distribute to children in need throughout the world.
Helen Somers, a member of Upper Room Tabernacle who has organized collection at the church, said she first arranged for the Tabernacle to be a relay station to help the collection be more convenient for the community.
Having a drop-off location in Tiffin allows participants to easily make donations, instead of having to drive to other towns, Somers said. Making Operation Christmas Child more accessible, she said, was received "with a lot of thanksgiving."
A press release from Operation Christmas Child states the national collection week for the project is Nov. 18-25, and Somers said the Tabernacle's goal is to collect close to 500 gift boxes for distribution. Saturday, Somers said the church was nearing that goal.
The majority of the gift boxes are sent to children overseas, although a few remain in the United States, particularly in times of natural disasters when many people are in need of help, she said.
The boxes are packed with "toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement" for the children and families who receive them, according to the press release.
Somers said donations are broken down by age group, and by whether the gifts are intended for a boy or girl.
Boxes can be given by churches, individuals, organizations and businesses from the community, and Somers said donations range from "one shoebox or 100."
Somers said after collection of shoeboxes is complete, the church packs them onto a covered trailer and drives them to a collection center in Bowling Green. From there, she said, the gifts are distributed by Operation Christmas Child to those in need. Often, she said, the donations are taken "deep into mountains and jungles."
Somers said recipients are given "an invitation to faith" and a copy of the New Testament in their own language.
"We just love doing it," Somers said. Being a blessing to someone else is "my passion," she said.
Operation Christmas Child, she said, "brings a smile and helps someone find the Lord."
Somers gave a special word of thanks to church members Karen and Dennis Miller, who she said have helped every day of the program, and to Larry Kipps, who has donated the use of his trailer each year for the church to take its collection of shoeboxes to Bowling Green.