Livia Young will speak at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at Calvary Baptist Church in Hannibal, and again at 7 p.m. and Oct. 8 at Second Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Mo.

Any of the hundreds of Hannibal area people who have filled a showbox with gifts for a needy child in the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) ministry would be rewarded by hearing Livia Young of Romania share the story of how receiving a shoebox of gifts changed her life.

Young will speak at 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8, at Calvary Baptist Church in Hannibal, and again at 7 p.m. and Oct. 8 at Second Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Mo.

“I personally have heard Livia speak, and you don’t want to miss it,” said Cheryl McGowan, OCC church relations team member from Calvary Baptist Church.

OCC is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization, which reported that for 10 years of her life, Young lived in a Romanian orphanage among unloving fellow orphans and caregivers. Day-to-day existence, even basic hygiene, was a challenge for her. 

“I rarely brushed my teeth, and if I did, I had to share my toothbrush with all the other children in the orphanage,” Young said. “We also wore same the same clothes for a week. Same underwear; same socks. Whatever we had stayed on us for a week.”

Holidays for Young were not that different from every other day.

“I remember celebrating Christmas, but it wasn’t in the way that we celebrate it here. If we would get a gift, it would not be a gift that would be our own. It was always shared. I, personally, never had a gift that belonged just to me or I could call it my own,” she remembered.

All that changed when she was 12 years old and a team from Operation Christmas Child distributed shoebox gifts at her orphanage. Among the much-needed hygiene items, Young was ecstatic to find a pack of hair clips that she had wanted for as long as she could remember.

In her shoebox was also a friendship necklace. Young shared half of her necklace with volunteer Connie Satterfield, who had traveled from the United States to Romania for a mission trip, and handed Young her shoebox gift. Two years later, Satterfield and her husband adopted Young.

In the OCC project, families, groups and churches fill shoeboxes with small toys, hygiene items, and school which are sent to children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine and disease. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 146 million children in more than 100 countries.

Today, Young travels the country showing OCC volunteers, church and civic organizations, the impact a simple shoebox can have on a child’s life and encouraging people to pack shoeboxes. 

Mary Shelor, an area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, said, “As someone who has packed shoeboxes for years, it’s rewarding to hear how loved she felt when she received her shoebox. You see what a simple gift can do for a child when she explains her own story.”

For more information about Operation Christmas Child, visit samaritanspurse.org.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.