Today is the first day of shoebox collections for the annual Operation Christmas Child holiday drive.

The wildly successful program, run by the Samaritan's Purse Ministry, has hit on a concept that makes this particular charity fun, easy, and rewarding, according to Area Coordinator Fortune Mandaro.

"People love this ministry," she said, "They look forward to it all year round."

Participants put together a gift shoebox, filled with everything from everyday items and school supplies to personalized letters. From there, the shoeboxes are dropped off at designated collection sites. The shoeboxes are then dispersed to needy children in over 100 countries around the world.

"For most of these children, it's the first gift they've ever gotten," Mandaro explains, "the first they saw people not from their area."

Volunteers from the ministry are able to get to remote areas all over the world to make the deliveries. More than 8 million shoeboxes were collected and donated in 2010, with over 86 million since Samaritan's Purse took over the program in 1993. The drop-off is very accomodating for New Jerseyans, with over 100 locations available around the state.

A unique aspect of the drive is the personalized touch and path of each particular shoebox. Each one takes on the personality of the donor, and appreciation of the child receiving it. This is why there are no guidelines for creating a shoebox.

"And this box does have a journey, it has such an impact," Mandaro said, "an impact that changes these children's lives forever."

The collection runs from November 14-21st. Mandaro reiterated how gratifying the cause is for these underprivileged kids.

"It's a special time for these children," she said, "They get to feel that love of a total stranger, a stranger that they'll never meet."

Click here for locations and more information on the program.

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