Local donors will send over 16,000 gift packages to poor children around the world through Operation Christmas Child, a faith-based program that boasts over 100 million gift boxes delivered since 1990.

Volunteers with Operation Christmas Child expect more than 16,000 gift packages from local donors will be shipped to impoverished children across the world.

"There's kids that walk 10 to 15 miles because it's the only present they'll get this year," volunteer Peggy Burdick said.

This year, the gift packages from Dodge City and 19 other locations in southwest Kansas will go to Guyana, Togo and Mexico.

"It's the biggest celebration of the year" when the packages arrive, Burdick said, who has missioned in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The program is part of a faith-based international relief organization run by the evangelist Billy Graham's son Franklin, and boasts more than 100 million gift packages delivered since 1990.

Tonight, volunteers at First Christian Church, 711 Fifth Ave., are aiming to pack 5,000 boxes with collected colored pencils, markers, notebooks, matchbox cars, school supplies, toothbrushes, hotel-chain soap, toys and coloring books.

Each kid, too, will receive a small stuffed animal and candy — immediate things that can be squeezed and enjoyed.

Interested volunteers can get to work at 6:30 p.m. If you're interested in contributing in other ways, you can pack an unwrapped shoebox with gifts or donate money to assist in the shipping expense, which costs $7 per box. Boxes can be picked up at the church, though any shoebox will do.

"Now's the time," Burdick said. "Go to the Dollar Store and load up."

"It takes everyone, and it's easy," she added.

Due to shipping restrictions, the group cannot send perishable foods (or ones that melt, like chocolate), liquids, glass or war-related toys.

This year, they could also use more candy of the non-melting variety.

Though Operation Christmas Child is backed by a religious organization, gift boxes cannot include Bibles as part of agreements with recipient nations. Each box is prayed over at least 15 times before it reaches its final destination, though, said volunteer Elaine Hart.

"That's the important part," she added.

The boxes can also be tracked, and the volunteers encourage givers to include family photos and letters in the boxes. Children can decorate a special page and share with the recipient where they live and what they like, as well.

Each year the entire church gets involved, Burdick said, and all are welcome to assist, as the program is non-denominational and non-exclusive.

Each year she said she is touched by the generosity of others and the empathy displayed by even the youngest volunteers.

"Little kids who don't have these things are packing them into boxes."

For more information on Operation Christmas Child contact Tammy West at First Christian Church, 620-227-8686.