200 Millionth Shoebox Gift Celebrated in Charlotte

December 3, 2022 • Worldwide

At the Charlotte Processing Center, Franklin Graham and full-circle shoebox recipient Elizabeth Groff joined with many others to thank God for this significant milestone.

Operation Christmas Child

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham encouraged volunteers and staff at the Charlotte Processing Center in North Carolina during a community celebration event on Dec. 3. He expressed thanks to volunteers in Charlotte as well as the thousands of volunteers working in seven other processing center locations across the country to prepare shoebox gifts for international shipment.

Through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey, millions of children are learning the true meaning of Christmas and discovering the hope of the Gospel, salvation found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“We give God the glory,” Graham said. “Every box counts. Every box has been prayed for—no two boxes are the same. It is an honor to be able to touch the world right here from Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Franklin Graham addresses Samaritan's Purse staff and volunteers at the Charlotte Processing Center.

Giving God the Glory

The event celebrated a historic Operation Christmas Child milestone: 200 million shoebox gifts packed since the project began in 1993. We are thankful to God for all the boys and girls around the world who have had an opportunity to hear the Good News that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Franklin Graham shared how Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 when he received a call from a man in England asking his help on behalf of children in war-torn Bosnia. The Englishman specifically asked for shoeboxes filled with gifts to deliver to these boys and girls at Christmas. Samaritan’s Purse was already working in Bosnia, and Graham was excited to help.

Franklin Graham prays for the millions of boys and girls in need across the globe who will soon be receiving shoebox gifts.

Franklin Graham prays for the millions of boys and girls in need across the globe who will soon be receiving Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.

Graham called his friend, the late Ross Rhoads, who was serving as senior pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte. He asked if Ross and his wife, Carol, could fill a shoebox with items for a child, show it to their congregation, and ask them to do the same.

Calvary packed 11,000 shoebox gifts, and combining these gifts with more from our Canadian affiliate office, Samaritan’s Purse sent 28,000 shoebox gifts to children in Bosnia that year.

“I thank all of you who come and volunteer. We couldn’t do this project with you,” Graham said. “We never dreamed we’d have an army of Christian men and women who would come at
Christmas to make this program happen.”

Graham then welcomed to the stage the individual who packed that very first shoebox all those years ago—Paula Woodring, who is now Samaritan’s Purse executive vice president.

“It was a privilege to pack that first box,” she said. “It was evident God was in this. He was doing something beyond us—and He still is.”

Paula Woodring packed the first shoebox gift in 1993 for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan's Purse.

Paula Woodring packed the first shoebox gift in 1993 for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse.

After packing boxes that first year, Graham knew that this project had to be more than only giving presents.

“We’re wasting our time if all we’re doing is giving a gift to a kid. We have to make sure that they understand the purpose of Christmas,” he said. “That became our goal—to be sure that every child who received a box heard the Gospel. There’s Holy Spirit-filled power in that message. He uses the Gospel to change hearts. We want the children of the world to know this.”

Children who receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox at an outreach event learn about God during a Gospel presentation and receive a copy of The Greatest Gift storybook, which is a collection of 11 Scripture stories. Children are also invited to participate in The Greatest Journey, our 12-lesson follow-up discipleship program for shoebox recipients.

A Full-Circle Story

Former shoebox recipient Elizabeth Groff was also onstage in Charlotte for the community event. To honor the 200 millionth mark, Groff recently participated in a cross-country tour where she traveled to different U.S. drop-off locations and processing centers with a symbolic shoebox to encourage people to prayerfully pack boxes in Jesus’ Name. At each stop along the way mid-November, she added a gift item chosen by voters on our Operation Christmas Child social media platforms.

Franklin Graham and Elizabeth Groff in Charlotte with the symbolic 200 millionth shoebox gift.

Franklin Graham and Elizabeth Groff in Charlotte with the symbolic 200 millionth shoebox gift.

In Charlotte, Groff added one more special item—a letter she has written to the child in Ukraine who will eventually receive this special shoebox: “I hope your shoebox brings you hope and joy. I hope every time you see it you are reminded that you are loved. You are not alone. God loves you and wants to know you intimately. There’s life and hope in Jesus Christ if you give your heart to Him.”

Graham also added a yellow yo-yo to the 200 millionth shoebox and then prayed over the box. He wanted to add the yo-yo because it was the most prized item in the shoebox that Groff received years ago as a lonely child in an orphanage in Ukraine.

Groff shared with audience how at age 7 she ran away from home with her younger sister, Tanya, to live in an orphanage. Their mother had turned to alcohol to try to ease her grief after her husband died. When she gave birth to baby Tanya she couldn’t properly care for her, and Groff quickly became a mother to her sister.

Tanya’s biological father eventually found the girls at the orphanage and took Tanya home with him—but he didn’t bring Groff. “I felt so heartbroken. Tanya was the only family I had left,” she said.

When Elizabeth was about 10, Operation Christmas Child came to the orphanage. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “My teacher told me were receiving gifts because God loved us. That was hard for me to believe at first—I felt so abandoned.”

But that changed when Groff received her shoebox. Her favorite item in her box was a shiny yellow yo-yo. “It represented hope. This was the first gift I had ever received. God used that shoebox to say you are not an orphan; you are my daughter. I wasn’t alone.”

An American family adopted Groff when she was 13—and they were in the audience praising God on Saturday when she shared her story.

Their daughter’s story of redemption and hope continues to unfold as she recently reunited with Tanya after years of separation. “One of the first things we did together was to pack shoeboxes in the hotel room where we reunited,” Groff said.

By God’s grace, Groff was even able to help her sister and her sister’s baby son flee the war in Ukraine. They now live with Groff and her husband in Texas.

Each Shoebox is Special

Edward Graham, Samaritan’s Purse vice president of operations and youngest son of Franklin Graham, opened the event in prayer: “We pray for the gifts in this room and in the processing centers around the country. We pray for these boxes as they go out. You know each child who will receive each gift. We pray that when the box is opened and when the Gospel is presented, you will pierce their heart with the truth.”

Edward Graham also spoke and prayed at the Charlotte event on Dec. 3.

Edward Graham also spoke and prayed at the Charlotte event on Dec. 3.

The Tommy Coomes Band, as well as the student choir from Metrolina Christian Academy, provided joyful music during the event to help celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus

Franklin Graham wrapped up the event with a moving testimony about how he has seen God place just the right shoebox into the hands of a specific child.

He talked about how a young, orphaned boy in Eastern Europe who wasn’t excited when he received his shoebox gift. In fact, he didn’t even want to open it. When his teacher asked why, the child explained that he didn’t want toys—he only wanted to have parents.

The teacher encouraged the boy to open his box, and when he did, he found a photo of the couple who had packed the box along with their address. The child wrote them a letter, and before long, he received one in return.

The couple eventually came to visit the orphanage, and when they left, they didn’t return home empty-handed—the boy came with them as their adopted son.

“God put the parents in the box,” Franklin Graham said. “We see it time and time again, when the box is designed just for that child.”

Faithful Volunteers Serve Christ

Shoebox packers from across the country are working hard at our Charlotte center to be sure that every gift-filled box is ready for overseas distribution. For many, volunteering is an annual event that they look forward to all year.

Ruthie Cooper is from Grace Point Church in Irmo, South Carolina, and plans to make the trip to Charlotte at least six times over the coming weeks. “This is so joyful,” she said of the processing center.

Ruthie Cooper volunteering at the Charlotte Processing Center.

Ruthie Cooper volunteering at the Charlotte Processing Center.

Ruthie started Operation Christmas Child at the church about 12 years ago because “it’s all about Jesus,” she said. “It brings tears to my eyes. This is a vehicle to lead children to faith in Christ.”

First-time volunteers are, of course, also welcomed at our processing centers. Martha Garris and her husband, Andy, came with more than 30 first-timers from Lees Chapel Advent Christian Church in Four Oaks, N.C. The church has packed shoeboxes for more than 25 years, but this is their first time to help process the boxes.

“I’ve always wanted to come and help do this; it’s amazing. It’s almost overwhelming to see this operation,” Martha said. “I want the kids who receive the boxes to see the love that is put into every box. I hope they feel that love.”

It’s not too late to pack a shoebox! You can still Build a Shoebox Online or drop off your shoebox gifts at one of our processing centers through mid-December.

There's always a fun atmosphere at our shoebox processing centers!

Our processing centers are bustling with activity as shoeboxes are prepared for shipment overseas!

Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $10 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $10 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $150