The joy of the shoebox gift (November 12, 2014)

Written by Daniel Nolan

Published by Hamilton Spectator on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Leo Johnson knows the joy of getting a gift box from Operation Christmas Child.

The 31-year-old, who came to Hamilton in 2006 as a refugee, grew up in Liberia and received one of its shoeboxes in 1992. Among other items, it contained crayons. The gift made him the only one in his school who had crayons and made him "like an angel at school."

It's not easy to keep a box of crayons for long, noted Johnson, executive director of Empowerment Squared, an agency that aims to empower immigrant and refugee youths. "You share it … It goes by very fast. You can't keep it to yourself."

Johnson told his story Tuesday night to more than 100 children packing gifts into shoeboxes at West Highland Baptist Church on the west Mountain.

Operation Christmas Child was started in 1990 by a Welshman who felt moved to help Romanian orphans. It was adopted in 1993 by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian group and now sees boxes sent from 10 countries to 100 developing countries.

Last year, members from about 100 Hamilton regional groups packed more than 6,000 shoeboxes. They contain toys, hygiene items and candies.

Johnson said children in Liberia do not receive Christmas gifts because their families can't afford it. Food is the item shared on the holiday.

"You just saved a parent and a family from feeling bad Christmas morning that they couldn't get their child a gift," Johnson said. "You will put a smile on the face of a young girl or a young boy."

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

Read more: http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5023368-the-joy-of-the-shoebox-gift

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