Southwest Iowa graphic

So far, the Samaritan’s Purse International Relief organization has collected 168 million shoebox gifts to distribute in over 100 countries through Operation Christmas Child.

This year’s goal is to collect 7,800 unique donated shoebox gifts in southwest Iowa.

Shoebox recipient Dania Yadago will speak Sunday at 6 p.m. at Citylight Church, 2109 Railroad Highway, about her experience opening her shoebox full of items.

“That experience for me, as a little girl, was the highlight of my childhood,” Yadago said. “There was a lot of darkness from where I come from. When I came to the United States and got to connect with Operation Christmas Child, I couldn’t help but share what type of impact that can make to a child like me.”

Yadago’s family was poor and persecuted as Christians in the Middle East as part of a community that was not Christian, she said.

Yadago said she prayed with her family for the things they needed — the shoebox arrived just in time, providing toys and school supplies.

“To have that shoebox come brought so much joy,” she said. “Even under poverty and persecution, God provided for us.”

Council Bluffs is one of three places Yadago is scheduled to speak over the weekend.

Each shoebox is requested to be filled based on gender and medium to large “wow” items such as a soccer ball, stuffed animal or other toys, hygiene items and school supplies.

The majority of boxes come from the United States, although other countries like Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.K. also participate.

“When packing the box, think of the child receiving the shoebox,” she said. “For many children like me, this is the first gift they ever receive. They can be a part of someone else’s story just like someone else was a part of mine.”

Yadago will speak Saturday at 9 a.m. at First Family Church, 317 SE Magazine Road in Ankeny, Sunday at 9 a.m. at Faith Community Church, 2701 N. Eighth St., in Red Oak and 6 p.m. at Citylight Church.

All events are free and open to the public.

For more information on how to participate on the shoebox donation go to samaritanspurse.org/occ or samaritanspurse.org/buildonline.

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