By Darrin J. Cook
Mariya Snizhko was only 10 years old when she experienced a life changing event. It was so life changing that as a teacher now residing in the United States, she dedicates herself to the cause that changed saved her. Being the oldest of eight children, Snizhko had plenty of responsibilities to tend to in her Ukrainian home. She faced many difficulties, with bullying being at the top of the list. When faced with challenges that are seemingly out of our control, we tend to search for an escape. Snizhko chose art. This presented another hurdle, however. Her family was poor and art supplies were not going to be on the list of things to pick-up while in town. One day Snizhko thought to herself “Maybe God can find a way”. Soon her hopes and prayers turned to a miracle in the form of a shoe box. A shoe box filled with several items, including art supplies.
Now an art teacher in Cleveland, Snizhko will never forget that fateful day when she unpacked her shoebox and the effects it had on her life. She has made it a mission to pay it forward both as a teacher and a four-year member of the organization.
The origins of the shoebox gift program began in the UK in 1990. The Wales-based program, within three years of existence, merged in a partnership with a rapidly growing non-profit organization called Samaritan’s Purse, allowing it to share the 20 years of expertise in relief and aid work, and expand the reach of the shoebox gifts to more than 28,000 children that year. Since 1993, the program, now called Operation Christmas Child, has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 168 million children in more than 100 countries.
Reeling this international project in on a local level introduces us to Sarah Burkholder, a Middlefield resident and Drop-Off Team Leader for Samaritan’s Purse. Last year, Burkholder collected over 3,200 shoe boxes from the Amish schools in and around Geauga County. She is one of over 9,000 volunteers across the country and abroad that begin collecting shoeboxes in late September every year. Collections end in November and the shoeboxes are sent to main distribution point. It is here that the boxes are inspected and shipped all over the world to needy children just like the Snizhko.
Some of the items you might find in a shoebox include toys, games, art and school supplies, hygiene products, and of course…prayers. These items need to be for a boy or girl ranging in age from two to twelve. If you are interested in donating a shoebox this year you can call Burkholder at 440-632-9625 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ to see step-by-step instructions. Final collections week is Nov. 18 through 25.