Even though it's only September, the thoughts of a lot of people are already focused on Christmas..and not in a selfish way.  People in the Erie area have been doing something special the past two months to make sure needy children have a nice Christmas.   They've been doing it every summer since 2009.

They’ve been gathering at the gymnasium of First Alliance Church on Zimmerly Road in Millcreek Township.  Volunteers pack shoeboxes with various small items for children. Several groups have been coming to the gym since August to make sure 22,000 boxes are filled in time for Christmas.  The boxes will be delivered to needy children around the world.

"We've had Girl Scout troops, Boy Scout troops, all kinds of community people coming together to pack these boxes. Really, all of the people in the community have been a part of getting to this point,” says Kathy Schriefer, Volunteer Coordinator.

The local shoebox packing project is part of a worldwide ministry called 'Operation Christmas Child.'  It was started in 1993 by evangelist Franklin Graham.  People in the Erie area have been packing since 2009.  2022 is a special year for Erie. This week, volunteers in Erie packed their 300,000th shoebox.

The shoeboxes are packed with little things such as pencils, pens, toothbrushes, stuffed animals and other toys. There's nothing extravagant inside the boxes...but that's O.K.

Donna Myers is a longtime volunteer.

"These little boxes mean the world to these kids that get them.  It's a way of us telling them that God loves them.  It's just to me, it's so simple but yet it means so much to them…the things that we take for granted,” she said.

The shoeboxes packed in Erie are loaded on a truck to be shipped to one of several distribution centers in the U.S.  A group worked on the final boxes on Thursday, so all 22,000 will definitely be ready on time for Christmas.

However, The project is not over in 2022.   In November, over 100 churches in Erie, Crawford, and Warren counties will be holding individual collection drives and shoebox packing parties. 22,000 additional boxes will be sent from this area to needy children around the world.