MOULTRIE -- A semi-truck rolled into Moultrie Plaza Friday, but it wasn't making a delivery to one of the stores there. It was making a pick-up worthy of Saint Nicholas himself.

The truck, donated by Tom Stallings of Funston Gin, was one link in Operation Christmas Child, a worldwide effort to provide Christmas joy to underprivileged children.

Operation Christmas Child was started in 1990 as an effort to get Christmas presents to Romanian orphans. It's grown a lot since then. Now under the auspices of Samaritan's Purse, the charity founded by the Rev. Billy Graham's son Franklin, the program delivered more than 6 million packages last year, and it plans for 7 million this Christmas.

Moultrian Monica Funderburk became a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child six years ago.

"I was looking for something our kids could be involved in where they could see how other kids are living," Funderburk said. "... We don't comprehend what poverty is over here. Our kids have so much."

Funderburk said volunteers pack shoeboxes with gifts, some practical and some just for fun. The shoeboxes are put into crates at the local centers before being loaded onto the tractor-trailer for the trip to an Atlanta warehouse.

She said Samaritan's Purse provides lists of what to include and what to leave out. Military toys are no-nos because so many of the children live in war-torn lands; they are filled with fear of war, weapons and soldiers.

Volunteers try to include a washcloth, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste and some candy into every box, Funderburk said. Beyond that, the gifts are planned for either a boy or girl and for a specific age group. They may include yo-yos, dolls, clothing or many other things. The intended gender and age of the recipient are written on the outside of the box.

"Some of the boxes are going to kids who have no shoes, who have never owned shoes, who have never had a color book," Funderburk said.

The Moultrie community has responded wonderfully, she said. The rooms where the crates are filled were donated by the Friedlander family. Many churches have filled shoeboxes or sent volunteers to help at the center. The Colquitt County High School Key Club has volunteered.

"If there's a need, its always met," she said. "It's a God thing. He's all around it."

The Moultrie center collected between 1,300 and 1,400 shoeboxes, Funderburk said.

When Funderburk started volunteering, the nearest drop-off center was in Tallahassee. In 1999, Funderburk started the center in Moultrie. Since then, centers have opened in Tifton and other area towns.

"What we are is basically a relay station," she said. "We put (the gifts) on a semi and relay them."

The gifts go from here to Tifton, where that town's donations are put on board, and then to a warehouse in Atlanta that holds gifts from Georgia, Florida and Alabama. From there they are distributed to about 100 countries on six continents.

The boxes are hand-delivered by Samaritan's Purse missionaries. They are brought in by truck, or by boat, or by helicopter, or by pack animal if that's the only way. While they're there, the missionaries minister to the needs of the community where the gifts are distributed.

Funderburk said she hoped to one day go with a delivery team.

"It's not about the gift," she said. "It's about God's love. It's about showing somebody in the world cares about you."

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