JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - This holiday season, northeast Florida residents are joining millions of people around the world to fill empty shoe boxes with toys, school supplies and hygiene items for 9.8 million impoverished children.
The shoe boxes full of goodies go to suffering children in more than 100 countries.
Dang Arjaw, who's from Thailand, received one of those boxes as a child. He's now living in Jacksonville.
Bubble gum, soap, pencils are things often taken for granted. But for Arjaw, they were gifts he will never forget.
"I received like 10 pencils and I used those 10 pencils for a whole year and gave to other kids who didn't have pencils to write," Arjaw said.
He was living in Thailand when he received a shoe box gift from Operation Christmas Child. Now he's in Jacksonville interning at a church.
He is grateful for the people who give because it means the world to the kids living in poverty.
"They are very happy to see the shoe box and gifts from your donors, and they will never forget that for their whole life," Arjaw said.
Operation Christmas Child is the world's largest Christmas project of its kind. For many children, as it was for Arjaw, the shoe box gift will be the first gift they have ever received.
Operation Christmas Child workers say through simple gifts and a message of hope, children learn they are loved and not forgotten.
"We donate boxes to children that live in dumps. Their life is something totally unfamiliar to, I think, many of us," said Natalie Bergeron, of Operation Christmas Child.
Cynthia Sasso prepares shoe boxes all year. One year she donated about 750 boxes of gifts.
"It's not all about me, it's about helping others," Sasso said. "And when I saw the videos of Operation Christmas Child with these children who do not have anything, it just broke my heart."
This year, northeast Florida residents gave 37,649 gift-filled boxes, a 19.3 percent increase from 2012. That goes toward the global collection goal of 9.8 million gift-filled shoe boxes.
To find drop off locations for Operation Christmas Child, click here.
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