ST. JOSEPH — Dust off that Beanie Babies collection.

As churches, other organizations and individuals begin packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child, one local coordinator said Beanie Babies are just the right size stuffed animal.

Operation Christmas Child, run globally by The Samaritan’s Purse, provides shoeboxes filled with gifts to send to children across the globe who are suffering due to war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine. For many of these children, it will be the only gift they receive.

“We’ve been involved in this for about 20 years,” said Connie Hartwig, coordinator for Operation Christmas Child at Oakridge Community Church in St. Joseph. “The last 10 years we have served as a drop-off location for this area.”

She said many other church groups are participating by donating items and packing boxes.

Oakridge and four other sites in Southwest Michigan are among 5,000 drop-off sites nationwide collecting the shoebox gifts. National Collection Week kicks off Nov. 18. But churches, other organizations and families have already been busy turning empty shoeboxes into packages filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items. This year’s goal is to reach 11 million children.

Hartwig said one local woman donated 300 Beanie Babies she had in her basement. Suggestions for toys include small stuffed animals, tennis balls, Hot Wheels cars and deflated soccer balls with a pump so they fit in a shoebox. 

Suggested school supplies include pencils, sharpeners, crayons and notebooks. Hartwig said in some areas of the world, children cannot attend school if they don’t have their own supplies.

For hygiene, Operation Christmas Child organizers suggest soap, a washcloth and a toothbrush. Hartwig advises no toothpaste or candy, because those items usually have an expiration date. Other suggestions include knitted hats, flip-flops and Band-Aids.

Times and locations to drop off packed boxes in Southwest Michigan are:

• Oakridge Community Church, 766 Oakridge Drive, St. Joseph: 5-7 p.m. Nov. 18-22, 24; 10 a.m.-noon Nov. 23; 8-10 a.m. Nov. 25.

• First Church of Christ, 2240 Yankee St., Niles: noon-2 p.m. Nov. 18; 8-11 a.m. Nov. 19; 5-7:30 p.m. Nov. 20; 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 21; 3:30-7 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 23; 12:30-6 p.m. Nov. 24; 8:30 a.m.-noon Nov. 25.

• Penn Friends Community Church, 19107 Quaker St., Cassopolis: 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 18, 25; 5-7 p.m. Nov. 19-21; 4-6 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-noon Nov. 23; 1-3 p.m. Nov. 24.

• Calvary Chapel of New Buffalo, 1615 E. Buffalo St.: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 18-19; noon-2 p.m. Nov. 20; 5-7 p.m. Nov. 21; 5-8 p.m. Nov. 22; 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Nov. 23; noon-2:30 p.m. Nov. 24; 9-11 a.m. Nov. 25.

• LifeBridge Church, 10420 M-140, South Haven: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 18-20, 22; 6-8 p.m. Nov. 21; 9-11 a.m. Nov. 23; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 24; 8-10 a.m. Nov. 25.

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct dates for Operation Christmas Child.