For more information about online EZ Give donations, log onto www.samaritanspurse.org. Contributions may be mailed to Samaritan's Purse, Operation Christmas Child, 801 Bamboo Road, Boone, NC 28607.
DAYTON, Tenn. -- For Yuri Lopez, receiving an Operation Christmas Child shoebox at a Honduran orphanage left a hopeful message in her heart, long after the gifts were gone.
Inside the nearly footlong box handed to the 6-year-old were toiletries such as toothpaste, a toothbrush and a comb, along with a box of crayons and a small, blue radio.
Lopez, now a 23-year-old junior at Bryan College here, grew misty eyed at her recollection of the gift and the child's simple note atop it: "Jesus loves you, and I do, too."
Now Lopez is returning that hope by helping to pack and send shoeboxes to needy children and urging them to "never give up."
The national collection week for shoebox donations begins Monday and runs through Nov. 21. Toiletry items, small toys, writing supplies, candy and a personal note or picture are recommended.
Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are available at First Baptist Church in Dayton from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and before noon on weekends.
Church representative Patty Milliron said the church has shipped 700 to 800 shoeboxes each year in conjunction with Life Care Center in Cleveland, Tenn.
From birth, Lopez lived in various orphanages, one which housed nearly 550 children. She said Christmas observances were uncommon, except for hearing the story about baby Jesus.
As a child, Lopez longed for someone with whom to share her thoughts and dreams, and she said reflecting upon the child's scribbled message helped her through moments of loneliness.
Lopez eventually lived at the Eternal Family Project, a Honduran home for orphaned girls and worked as a translator. In 2005, she met and translated for Rhea County residents Randy and Jennifer Hollingsworth when they were in Honduras on a mission trip.
That encounter, a promise of a return and the Hollings-worths' decision to serve as a "host family" led Lopez to the United States in 2008 and then to Bryan College.
Lopez, who is preparing to graduate in December 2012, is an exercise and health science major who hopes to work as a teacher and coach with inner-city children.
Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bell south.net.