Remembering Despair, Former Russian Orphans Help Bring Joy to Needy Kids Overseas

Chicago-area Siblings Join Same Effort that Brought Them Hope Years Ago in a Russian Orphanage—Through a Simple Shoebox Gift

‘Tis the season for kids to begin writing their Christmas wish lists, but former Russian orphans and now Chicago-area teens Valery and Marina Bianco are making a different list—not for themselves, but for children in need overseas. They are giving back to the project that seven years ago filled them with hope and love in the form of a gift-filled shoebox.

"As an orphan I felt abandoned and hopeless because no one cared about me or encouraged me," said 16-year-old Valery Bianco. "But when I received the shoebox gift, I remember feeling so happy that someone in the world loved me. It gave me hope and a sense of worth. I had never received anything like it."

Valery and Marina were nine and six years old, respectively, when their orphanage received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, necessity items and notes of encouragement. Valery remembers the joy of receiving a toy car in his shoebox—the first toy he had as an orphan. Likewise, Marina was so excited about the stickers she found in her box. She traded them with her friends and stuck them on the walls in her personal cubby. Four years later, Valery and Marina were adopted and now live in the Chicago area with their family.

"I want children in need to know they are special and that someone really does care for them," said 13-year-old Marina Bianco. "I hope they realize that the shoebox gifts are a symbol of that love." 

Operation Christmas Child—the world's largest Christmas project of its kind—starts with a simple gift-filled shoebox. The gifts are then delivered to children in poverty worldwide, including those who are suffering from natural disaster, disease, war, terrorism, poverty and famine. Staff and volunteers use whatever means necessary—ships, trucks, buses, trains, airplanes, helicopters, boats, camels, even dog sleds—to reach suffering children.

For many of these children, the shoebox gift will be the first gift they have ever received, letting them know they are loved and not forgotten. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered shoebox gifts to more than 77 million children in more than 130 countries. 

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call 913.831.4466 or visit samaritanspurse.org. National Collection Week for gift-filled shoeboxes is Nov. 15 – 22; however, shoebox gifts are collected all year at the Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, North Carolina.


COVERAGE OPPORTUNITIES:

Operation Christmas Child is underway right now, and Chicago families hope to collect 56,000 shoebox gifts for children suffering from poverty, war, disease, famine and natural disaster. Opportunities include:

  • Former Russian orphans and shoebox recipients—Interview 16-year-old Valery Bianco and 13-year old Marina Bianco who received shoebox gifts when living in Russian orphanages. Now living in the Chicago area with their adopted family, Valery and Marina know the powerful impact of a simple shoebox gift and are thrilled to have the opportunity to pack shoebox gifts—like the ones that brought them hope-for other needy children overseas.
  • Chicago kid profile—Feature one of the hundreds of Chicago kids who are looking beyond themselves and packing shoebox gifts for children in need overseas.
  • Chicago volunteer profile—Feature one of the 100,000 U.S. volunteers who help get a shoebox gift from the loving arms of a child in the Chicago area to the hurting arms of a child struggling overseas.
  • Photo and interview opportunities—Nov. 15 – 22 visit one of three collection centers in the Chicago area buzzing with volunteers and thousands of brightly colored shoeboxes for National Collection Week. (After Nov. 22, shoebox gifts can be mailed to Samaritan's Purse: 801 Bamboo Road, Boone, NC 28607).
  • Follow a Box—Using the donation form found at samaritanspurse.org, families can register their boxes and follow them to the destination country where their box will be hand-delivered to a child in need.
  • Follow Operation Christmas Child staff via daily updates on FacebookTwitterVimeo and YouTube

QUOTES:

Former Russian Orphan, 16-year-old Valery Bianco
  • "As an orphan I felt abandoned and hopeless because no one cared about me or encouraged me."
  • "When I received the shoebox gift, I remember feeling so happy that someone in the world loved me. It gave me hope and a sense of worth. I had never received anything like it."
  • "Packing shoebox gifts is so fun because I remember how great it felt to get that box, and I want other children to feel that way too."
 
Former Russian Orphan, 13-year-old Marina Bianco
  • "When I learned that people from another country sent us gifts I was encouraged.  Their love gave me faith and made me want to live; to grow up to be a good person."
  • "Receiving a toothbrush in my shoebox meant I could brush my teeth more regularly and wouldn't have to go to the dentist to get my teeth pulled."
  • "I want children to know they are special and that someone really does care for them."
  • "I hope they realize that the shoebox gifts are a symbol of that love." 

ABOUT OPERATION CHRISTMAS CHILD

Operation Christmas Child is a kids-helping-kids project of Samaritan's Purse that uses simple gift-filled shoeboxes to let children in poverty know that they are loved and not forgotten. In 2010, Operation Christmas Child will reach more than 8 million children—many of whom have never received a gift before—with a message of hope and love.

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