Pennsylvania – This past year, COVID-19 left boys and girls around the world feeling fearful and uncertain. And they were all connected by their shared search for hope.

Despite the pandemic, millions of shoebox packers shared the true meaning of Christmas with these children in need this past holiday season.

This includes some 7,809,410 million gifts packed nation-wide for the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child, with 415,403 built online.

It was a record year for Build a Shoebox Online. Because of partnership in communities across the United States, more people than ever chose to participate in this way.

Combined with those collected from partnering countries in 2020, the ministry is now sending more than 9,113,853 million shoebox gifts to children around the world.

Locally, the West Central PA Area collected 13,835 shoebox gifts. The area encompasses the communities of Clearfield, Jefferson and Indiana counties.

Karla Sunderlin, West Central PA area coordinator, said the pandemic posed many challenges, as COVID restrictions shutted churches and cancelled meetings of student and community groups.

Store hours were also limited and leisurely shopping was discouraged, she said, but “by the grace of God and commitment of our people, we were able to pack and transport 13,835 shoebox gifts to children in need.

“Mid-summer we decided we’d be grateful for any boxes, … and little did I know that we would be able to pack, collect and send almost 2,000 more shoebox gifts than we did in 2019.

“This is no small feat in a normal year, so I am overjoyed and completely thrilled. It’s an overwhelming feeling that this little area in Pennsylvania has such a giving spirit.”

Each gift-filled shoebox—packed with fun toys, school supplies and hygiene items—is a tangible expression of God’s love, and it is often the first gift these children have ever received.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 186 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories.

“We thank God that even in the middle of a pandemic, generous men, women, children, families and churches were moved to pack millions of shoebox gifts,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse.

“These gifts open the door for us to share God’s love and the eternal hope of the Gospel with children and their families who are living in desperation and fear.”

Many children who receive shoebox gifts will also enroll in Operation Christmas Child’s 12‑lesson discipleship program, The Greatest Journey.

This program teaches children about God’s amazing love and guides them through what it means to faithfully follow Jesus Christ.

Since 2009, more than 23 million children have participated in the program. Every child who graduates is given a New Testament in their own language.

Sunderlin said she’s honored to lead her team of local volunteers, and offered up heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped the West Central PA area reach children around the world.

She looks forward to 2021 with plans to not only grow her team, but also its shoebox collection efforts. National Collection Week will take place Nov. 15–22.

To learn more about the local ministry and volunteer opportunities, individuals may contact Sunderlin via e-mail at [email protected] or phone at 814-496-4456.

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