Shoebox Recipient Gives the Gift of Service to Louisiana Homeowners

June 29, 2021 • United States
Karina enjoyed serving with fellow disaster relief volunteers while in Lake Charles.
Karina enjoyed serving with fellow disaster relief volunteers while in Lake Charles.

Karina recalls that memorable Christmas she and seven of her siblings received shoebox gifts as children. The love and generosity of that day helped give her a heart to serve those in need as a U.S. Disaster Relief volunteer.

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Karina knows what it’s like to receive an unexpected gift from strangers. One year around Christmastime, a pre-teen Karina and her seven siblings were surprised to see stacks of colorful shoeboxes ready to be distributed to children at their church.

Her large family was used to sharing what possessions they had and celebrating Christmas without the expectation of receiving presents.

Great Joy Times Eight

Karina remembers the burst of excitement at receiving a gift of her own, recalling that her mother had wanted Karina and her siblings to open their shoebox gifts together at home. She had the hardest time waiting, and the anticipation built as Karina imagined what might be inside. Then it was time.

“There was a [fashion] doll in my shoebox gift!” she said, recalling that special day. “It was my first doll like that, with a pretty outfit. A few of my sisters also received dolls, so we played with them together a lot. Receiving a gift like this made us feel special.”

In addition to school supplies, personal care items, and other toys, Karina discovered inside her shoebox gift a set of costume jewelry, including a toy crown, and, most remarkably, a dress that actually fit her. Karina still vividly recalls this childhood memory and the joy surging through the household as the eight children reveled in gifts they could call their own.

The brothers and sisters still talk today about what a memorable Christmas that was for them. Even the two siblings born later played for years with many of the shoebox gifts that their older brothers and sisters handed down to them.

Shoebox Gifts Packed With ‘WOW’

While visiting her friend, Judy, in the U.S. about five years ago, Karina recalled those childhood memories when she saw the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes collected at Judy’s church.

Judy has volunteered at one of our shoebox processing centers, and Operation Christmas Child is how she got connected with U.S. Disaster Relief. Volunteering on a disaster response, in turn, is where she met her now husband, Michael, who has volunteered 10 years with Samaritan’s Purse.

After that visit, packing shoebox gifts took on even more meaning for Judy as she considered the impact such simple things had on Karina. Now when she packs shoeboxes, she thinks of girls like Karina receiving a special gift—such as that fashion doll. Those types of gifts, called “Wow” items, are special items in a shoebox that catch the attention and awe of the child—items such as a doll, soccer ball with pump, or backpack.

“I included [fashion] dolls in the shoebox gifts I packed after hearing from Karina about how much a gift like that meant to her,” Judy said.

The Gift of Serving Others

A few weeks ago Karina learned even more about the work of Samaritan’s Purse. Judy invited Karina on summer vacation with her and Michael, but she also warned Karina—the vacation activities would include tearing out walls and removing moldy belongings from flooded houses.

When Karina found out that the same people who sent the shoebox gifts were now helping Louisiana flood victims, she was thrilled. She wanted to find out more about these “orange shirts,” the name often given Samaritan’s Purse U.S. Disaster Relief volunteers. She wanted to become an “orange shirt” herself.

This is how Karina ended up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where hurricanes Delta and Laura had devastated communities in 2020 and where torrential rains flooded them again this past May.

Helping others at their time of greatest need renewed Karina’s gratitude for how Operation Christmas Child had given her family a Christmas they will never forget. She’s grateful God blessed her those many years ago and now is using her to bless others in Jesus’ Name.

“I wanted to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, not because I thought I was paying a debt, but because I wanted to give back by helping others,” Karina said. “I enjoyed serving God through Samaritan’s Purse.”

Go to spvolunteer.org to see our current U.S. disaster relief projects. Learn more about how to pack a shoebox and Operation Christmas Child volunteer opportunities at samaritanspurse.org/occ.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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