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Gift boxes for children abroad, which can no longer include candy or toothpaste, can be dropped off at Family Life Church Nov. 13-20

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Grace Baptist Church is again coordinating the Operation Xmas Child ministry in the Newberg area, but due to construction, boxes filled with small gifts, toys and school supplies can be dropped off at Family Life Church Nov. 13-20. Last year, the Newberg area collected approximately 1,000 boxes that were shipped to children in need all over the world.

Grace Baptist Church is in its second year of serving as the drop-off point for the Operation Christmas Child charity and despite several changes to the program this year, church volunteers have seen progress in growing the program in the Newberg area.

The most obvious yet potentially confusing twist is that because Grace Baptist Church is undergoing renovations, with the congregation meeting for worship at Newberg High School, it can't serve as the physical drop-off location.

So while Grace Baptist volunteers will continue to staff drop-off hours this year, which will run from Nov. 13-20, they will be doing so at nearby Family Life Church and not their own building.

"This is Family Life's first year taking on the project, which is exciting," Grace Baptist volunteer Lynette Goodwin said. "We're trying to grow the whole awareness of the project."

Goodwin and fellow program coordinators visited with pastors at every church in Newberg to help spread word about Operation Christmas Child in general, but also to encourage congregations to start their own collections. As a result, Newberg Christian Church will also participate for the first time this year.

"Everybody was very receptive to the idea," Goodwin said. "A lot of churches are involved in a lot of other activities, but to at least spread the idea of it helps. With some time to think about, maybe they'll come back next year and we'll have even more. Who knows?"

There are two notable changes for the boxes themselves, which are about the size of shoeboxes and typically are loaded with small gifts, like toys, clothing and school supplies. The cost to ship each package has increased from $7 to $9 and due to customs issues, boxes can no longer include candy or toothpaste.

According to Sherwood volunteer LeeAnn Kinnee, who coordinates the seven-county region that includes Portland and northwest Oregon, $9 is still quite a bargain to ship something halfway around the world.

"It's a $2 increase, but by the time you do a tube of toothpaste and some candy, that's about two bucks, so it's kind of a wash," Kinee said. "Jim and I came back from Uganda and I sent a box to Uganda and it cost me $68, so $9 is nothing."

Candy and toothpaste are no longer permitted because some customs agencies were requiring ingredient lists for candy and considered toothpaste to be medicinal items, which slowed or even stopped some shipments. Goodwin joked that even with the loss of toothpaste, the elimination of candy probably has dentists all over the world smiling.

"It gives me a little more room to put something in that I think is probably more useful for a child," Goodwin said. 'We can still put a toothbrush in, so dentists really are excited. It's still the soccer balls and stuffed animals and all of those fun these that every kid loves everywhere."

A popular way for families or congregations to participate is to hold packing parties at which everyone brings a few items in bulk that can then be put in every box the group puts together. For guidance on packing, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child.

Volunteers from Grace Baptist will be at Family Life Church to accept donations from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 13-Nov. 18, then from noon to 4 p.m. Nov. 19 and from 10 a.m. to noon Nov. 20.

According to Kinnee, the region collected 27,409 boxes last year and is shooting for 29,200 this year.

"Newberg, geographically, is still a perfect spot as one central location, but we want the awareness of all the different churches and within their congregations and the civic groups and schools," Goodwin said. "It doesn't have to be a church. Any kind of a civic group can do it. It's just such an exciting program, so we're trying to see if — last year I think we had 1,000 boxes — this year we can get 1,400."

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