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Local giving leads to global impact with Operation Christmas Child

Posted: October 12, 2014 11:34 a.m.
Updated: October 13, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Tenell Felder/C-I

Irina Creek, a Full Circle Story speaker for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) holds a sample shoe box that people can pack for needy children around the world. Irina received a OCC shoe box when she was 10 years old living in a Russian orphanage. Lugoff First Baptist will serve as a local drop off point for OCC shoe boxes this year.

Irina Creek didn’t have many toys growing up, so she used her fingers as dolls.

“We made do with what we had. For toys I use to draw a face on the tips of my fingers and hair on the back and that was my doll,” Irina recalled, smiling.

Irina grew up in a Russian orphanage. Resources were scarce, clothes were shared and baths were given twice a month. She and her sister ended up in the orphanage after their mother abandoned them and because their father was in and out of prison. Before then, Irina remembers taking apples from her neighbors’ trees and searching for food to eat. One night, her mother told them she had to leave but would return.

“It wasn’t unusual for her to leave, but that night she didn’t come back,” Irina recalled.

After about six years in orphanages, Irina received a shoe box filled with toys from Operation Christmas Child (OCC) when she was 10 years old. Creek lives in Washington State where she and her sister were adopted. Her parents currently live in Florence, and Irina spoke at an Operation Christmas Child kick-off event at Lugoff Baptist Church on Saturday.

“When Operation Christmas Child came, it was a pretty big deal because they gave me a whole box full of things that I could finally call my own, take to my room and cherish very much,” Irina said.

OCC, a project of Samaritans Purse, is a global effort to provide children in over 140 nations with shoeboxes filled with toys, clothes and hygienic items.

Irina said she still remembers what was in the shoe box 15 years later.

“One of my favorite items was actually a pencil sharpener because it was in the shape of a dinosaur and I thought wow, American people are so creative to make something like a pencil sharpener in such a shape,” Irina said.

Another favorite item from her shoe box was a hair barrette.

“I had really long hair -- down to my hip -- and I didn’t have anything to put into my hair. We used to wander across the street where there was a market place and we would dream, ‘If I had 30 rubbles, what would I buy?’ My dream was that I could have something for my hair. A hair clip was in my shoe box. It really meant a lot to me … I still have it at my home,” Irina said.

Lugoff First Baptist is serving as one of Kershaw County’s “drop off” locations for shoe boxes this year.

“Lugoff First Baptist is what we call a Relay, which is a place where all the boxes are bought before they start their journey towards Charlotte (North Carolina),” OCC Area Coordinator John Myers said.

Those who are interested in packing shoe boxes for Kershaw County can visit the website for more information on how to do so. Gift suggestions include toys, school supplies, non-liquid hygiene items and accessories.

“Things I encourage people to pack are items kids can put on themselves, like sunglasses, or like my hair clip or necklaces or beads. It really makes the child feel great, because (I remember) our clothes were really dirty, we didn’t get new clothes very often and we had to share … to have something new, shiny and unique is very important.” Irina said.

People are also encouraged to include a letter to their child. Irina said this is the most significant part of the box, showing children that someone loves them and wants to send them a gift.

OCC Carolina Regional Manager Jennifer Davis suggests that people consider packing boxes for boys and girls in the 2- to 4-year-old and especially the 10- to 14-year-old age ranges. Those are the groups she says do not have as many shoeboxes made for them.

Irina is now an ambassador for Operation Christmas Child. Because it is a Christian-based organization, the gospel message is shared with the children who receive the boxes. Irina speaks freely and enthusiastically about her Christian faith and encourages people to pack boxes for children.

“I’ve come full circle from receiving a box to sharing and encouraging others to pack because of what it did for me in the long run. The whole purpose is that they share the gospel when they give the gift; it’s a representation of the gift that God has given to all of us. And so even though we had heard about God before … it was more wishful thinking that someone might hear you when you prayed,” Irina said, “They explained about Jesus that he died on the cross so we could belong to him. It was so important to us because we didn’t feel like we belonged to anyone. We were in an orphanage full of 150 kids … when they told us about Jesus I thought that God is the God of adoption because whether it’s for an orphan or for someone who has a family in the United States, he takes us in. We all want someone strong and powerful and good to take care of us.”

November 17-24 is Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week. During that week, packed shoe boxes can be bought to the nearest drop off point. For information about how to get involved, pack a show box or track a box, visit


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