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How a Shoebox Can Change a Life

Chesterfield County — A four-year-old Croatian girl named Branka never smiled, or laughed. Why would she? She had no shoes, ill-fitting clothing, and slept with a blanket on a dirt floor. Little food and no plumbing existed in her home, a place most of us would consider a shack. Her parents worked 18 hour days to feed and house Branka, her siblings and themselves. At a young age she learned life is too tough to enjoy.

Shortly before her fifth birthday, a shoebox was placed in her hands. She refused to open it. She sat on a floor watching other children from her village squeal with delight as they examined the small treasure in each shoebox. All twenty-two village children, who lived like she did, showed the human emotion of happiness. All except Branka.

An Operation Christmas Child volunteer noticed her in the corner. They approached her, gesturing for her to open the box. Finally they reached out and helped unseal her gift. Lifting out a baby doll, they placed the toy in Branka’s hands. She held it close, tightening her fingers around it. The volunteer showed her the other items in her box. Branka never relaxed her grip on the doll but her face broke out in a smile.

The adults from the village pointed at her, whispering to each other. Some began smiling also. At last one explained to the OCC volunteer, Branka had never smiled or laughed. They were astounded a shoebox caused this to happen.

“I got to experience her first smile, all because I helped open her shoebox. It was the first gift she had ever received,” said Joyce Ward a local OCC volunteer who went on the Croatia Distribution trip. Stories like hers, fuel our desire to continue helping children across the world to have a reason to laugh and smile. Branka’s story showed what a shoebox can do to change a life.

Won’t you help give a child a reason to smile? November 12 through 19, Operation Christmas Child will be collecting filled shoeboxes for distribution all over the world. Areas close to home are in need this year along with overseas villages. Our goal is to place ten million shoeboxes in the hands of needy children everywhere. We’re hoping to see the miracle of a first smile happen again but any smile will do.

To find the closest collection center, please call Jim Cosby, 804-739-4331 or go online to

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