HOLLIDAYSBURG - Volunteers helped fill thousands of shoe boxes at Grace Bible Church on Friday evening to give gifts to needy children through Operation Christmas Child.
The church began packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, a program through Samaritan's Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization, in 1998, area coordinator Shannon Krater said.
In 2010, the church packed 10,000 shoe boxes; in 2011 it packed 11,700; and this year's goal is 12,000.
Mirror photo by Amanda Gabeletto
Penn State Altoona student Robin Picklo, 18, picks out a stuffed animal to place in a shoe box headed to a needy child through the Operation Christmas Child program. Volunteers packed boxes Friday evening at Grace Bible Church, Hollidaysburg.
This year, Samaritan's Purse, which is currently helping storm victims in New York and New Jersey, will pack its 100th million box for the program, Krater said.
Volunteer Janice McDowell of Altoona considers it a blessing to take her shopping hobby and use it as a ministry to buy clothes for the shoe boxes, she said. It is a way to please Christ.
"When you give of your time or even of your resources, you receive so much more back in blessings," she said. "It just makes your heart feel good."
Most of the kids who get the shoe boxes filled with school supplies, health and beauty products, candy, toys, clothing and stuffed animals have never gotten a gift before, Krater said.
The boxes go out to more than 100 countries, said national spokeswoman Lejla Allison, who moved to the United States with her husband in 2001.
Allison, who survived three years living in the war zone of Bosnia as a child, received a shoe box at the age of 11. The gift changed her life, she said.
As a child she encountered the horrors of war, she said. She went days without food. One day in 1993 she walked to school in the snow in a pair of shoes so worn out her toes turned purple from the cold. She cried out for God to take her life.
When she got to school, Operation Christmas Child was there handing out shoe boxes to her classmates, she said. Inside her box was a pair of tennis shoes. She fell to her knees, looked up and felt God's presence. God had answered her prayers.
Today, she shares her story as a thank you for the gift she still considers the best she has ever gotten, she said. She has since packed shoe boxes with her own children, and delivered shoe boxes to her homeland.
"I was one of the fortunate ones to be on the receiving end," she said. "I just felt like a million hugs, a million kisses."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.