Growing up in poverty in the Ukraine, Elvina Kravchuk of Fresno made a piece of chewing gum last for weeks.
The gum was one of a number of small gifts packed inside seven mysterious shoeboxes delivered to her family’s door one cold day, which she later determined came from Operation Christmas Child, a project of international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse.
Kravchuk was 7. This was the first time she received a gift she didn’t have to share with her six siblings.
She loved that piece of gum.
“Before I went to sleep, I would stick it to the dashboard of my bed. … Sometimes the gum was so hard I would put it in hot water to make it chewable again.”
There were other surprisingly wonderful gifts in Kravchuk’s shoebox, like a notepad with “blank bright white pages – I was so proud of that.” Most of the notebooks she saw as a girl used recycled paper, making the pages a brownish or pink color.
I was so overwhelmed with the gifts.
There was also a lollipop she enjoyed for a few minutes every day, dragging the sweetness out for about a week. And, in her baby brother’s box, there was a small doll that she was allowed to have.
“It was like a miracle that something like that could happen. To me, it meant the world to have a real toy.”
Her father, who worked at the railroad, struggled to bring home enough money to feed the family. The family grew most of their food in an open field near their home and preserved fruits and vegetables to last through the biting cold of winter.
I remember many times we would get hungry and our food was boiled potatoes. Sometimes, we didn’t even have salt on it.
“The worst part of the year was springtime, when we’d run out of our savings of food but it was still a long time before the harvest. I remember many times we would get hungry and our food was boiled potatoes. Sometimes, we didn’t even have salt on it.”
Kravchuk moved to Fresno at age 20 after her father found work in the United States.
Now 27, she learned of the origins of her shoebox while attending a new church with a friend. She spotted a stack of shoeboxes that members of the congregation filled with toys. She recognized the shipping labels printed on the sides.
“Something clicked that, wow, this is where my box came from, because I never really knew. It was just overwhelming to me.”
Kravchuk now volunteers for Operation Christmas Child when she isn’t busy working as an in-home caregiver or going to school at Clovis Adult Education to become a nurse.
Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox collection week begins Nov. 16 and continues through Nov. 23. A full list of drop-off locations is available online at samaritanspurse.org. The boxes are shipped to children in need around the world.
For the child in another world, it can change their life forever.
Yolanda Callahan, area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, says school supplies, hygiene items – particularly toothbrushes and toothpaste – and “something with a face,” a stuffed animal or doll, are especially helpful gifts.
Since 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has collected and delivered more than 124 million boxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. More than 500,000 volunteers, with more than 100,000 in the U.S., help collect, ship and distribute the gifts.
This holiday season, Operation Christmas Child hopes to help another 11 million children. In the central San Joaquin Valley, around 26,000 shoeboxes were collected last year.
“It’s a blessing on both sides of the box,” Callahan says.
More information about how to pack a shoebox is available online at samaritanspurse.org. Shipping is $7. If purchased online, people can track where the gift is delivered. Gifts can also be purchased on the website for volunteers to pack.
“We will take any donations, but it’s really beautiful if you pack your own box,” Callahan says.
Kravchuk hopes many people throughout the Valley participate in the donation drive.
Small gifts that can be purchased for less than a dollar could “change someone’s life forever.”
“For many, this shoebox is the first gift they ever receive,” Kravchuk says. “It really changes, just knowing that someone cares. There are so many orphans out there and so many children that live in circumstances that you cannot even imagine.”
How to help
- Boxes can be dropped off Nov. 16-23.
- Church drop-off locations in Fresno: at Calvary Chapel Fresno, 3425 E. Shields Ave.; Trinity Southern Baptist Church, 4890 E. Holland Ave.; and New Covenant Community Church, 1744 E. Nees Ave.
- In the foothills: Auberry Community Church, 33896 Powerhouse Road, Auberry; or Oakhurst Evangelical Free Church, 50443 Road 427, Oakhurst.
- Participating Fresno businesses: Chick-fil-A, 8040 N. Blackstone Ave. and 765 E. Shaw Ave. (free chicken sandwich for every box); Huckleberry’s Restaurant, 222 E. Bullard Ave. and 1083 E. Champlain Drive (free drink for every box); and LifeWay Christian Store, 5336 N. Blackstone Ave. (drop-off on Nov. 14 only).
- Shipping is $7. Purchase online so you can track where the gift is delivered, or write a $7 check to Samaritan’s Purse with “OCC” in the memo line and leave inside the box along with a label that can be downloaded online.