East Valley residents began their annual collection of Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts on Oct. 4 with a goal of collecting 15,000 gift-filled boxes this year.
“Our purpose is to share God’s love together,” said Robin Earle, the area team coordinator.
Operation Christmas Child is a charity that sends Christmas presents in shoe boxes to poor and under privileged children in developing countries. The shoe boxes are filled with stuffed animals, toys, candy school supplies and hygiene products. Each box also contains a book about Jesus written in the child’s native language.
Boxes are filled by individuals and collected at area churches, Earle said. From the churches, termed relay centers, the boxes are transferred to the area collection center.
In the East Valley, Grace Community Church will serve as the collection center, Earle said. From Grace, the boxes will be packed up and shipped to Colorado, where they will be organized and distributed to 130 countries. Each country that receives boxes then distributes them to children in orphanages, group homes and schools.
For the group that met at Grace Community Church, one such recipient told her story of receiving a box more than 10 years ago.
Luba Travis, 19, now lives in Redding, Calif., but before she was adopted by an American family at age 7, she and her older two older siblings lived in an orphanage in Moldova, a country nestled between Ukraine and Romania.
“I thought the box was a sign,” Travis said. “It was a symbol that my life was going to get better.”
The orphanage didn’t provide much food, Travis said. Instead her two older siblings stole food to feed themselves and Travis. She didn’t learn much in school, Travis said, because she feared the teachers too much.
When she received her box, the man who handed it to her said, “I love you. Jesus loves you. Enjoy the gift.” It was the first time anyone had said the word “love” to her and the first time she received a gift, she recalled.
Inside her box she found a teddy bear, toothpaste, a toothbrush, watermelon lip balm, candy and a slinky.
“I felt my stomach grumbling when I smelled the toothpaste,” remembered Travis. “So I ate it.”
Travis also had lice at the time, so when she pulled out the toothbrush, she assumed it was a brush for her shortly cropped hair.
“I loved watermelon rind,” Travis said with a smile, describing her forages through trashcans for the treat. “It was my delicacy, my favorite.”
When she saw the lip balm, she again thought it was something to eat, she said.
“Those Americans are so weird,” she recounted thinking. “They put a whole watermelon in a little tube.”
But when she saw the candy, she knew that was definitely meant for eating, describing how she put all of the pieces in her mouth at the same time.
“I looked like a squirrel with cheeks filled with acorns,” Travis said with a laugh and gesturing big checks with her hands.
As for the teddy bear Travis received, she left it behind for the other kids at the orphanage.
“I knew there would be lots of toys in America,” she said.
This holiday season marks the 100 millionth box to be delivered by Operation Christmas Child and it can only happen one box at a time, Earle said.
Boxes also need $7 donation to pay for shipping. If purchased online, donators can track the progress of their box as it travels across the world.
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