TIFTON -- Christmas may be over two months away, but local families are already thinking about making wish lists -- not for what they can get, but for what they can get for others.

Northside Baptist Church is serving as a collection center for Operation Christmas Child. Shoeboxes full of gifts and hand-written messages of encouragement from groups and individuals participating in the project will be collected at the church off 20th Street Nov. 17-24.

"We have Methodists, Catholics, clubs, schools and individuals participating," said Leslie Troxell, coordinator of the collection center. "We'll take any box people bring to us."

The site has served as a relay center for the past five years. This is the second year the church as served as a collection center. Relay centers in Valdosta, Hazlehurst, Waycross, Moultrie, Fitzgerald, Pelham, Ochlocknee and Nashville will feed into the Tifton Center.

Troxell said the center received, packed, loaded and shipped 13,000 boxes last year. The goal this year is 16,250 boxes.

Boxes of goodies and encouraging messages have been shipped to children in Honduras and Nicaragua who were left homeless by Hurricane Mitch, war orphans in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, and Ugandan children devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The local center is manned by volunteers. The center is one of eight in the state.

For the past three years, Orgill Brothers and Company has provided a trailer, truck and driver to transport the boxes for shipping.

Troxell said shoe boxes, either the cardboard ones or the plastic ones, work well. The boxes can be wrapped (lids and bottoms individually) or left unwrapped. Items in the boxes can be generic or specifically for a boy or a girl. Troxell said no chocolate, liquids or other perishable items are permitted.

Also prohibited are army or law enforcement related toys, knives or other weapons.

"Flashlights are good though because some of the children are in refuge' camps and the light there isn't good," Troxell said.

Hard candy, soap, personal items such as toothbrushes, school supplies and small toys are good choices.

Anyone wishing to participate can contact Troxell at 387-8601 or visit the Samaritan's Purse website at www.samaritanspurse.org.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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