SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- This is the story of Evilyn Pinnow , a young girl from a small town in Wisconsin with a big dream.
"I've wanted to help the poor for a really long time. I was praying for it since I was six years old that I would be able to help the poor," she said.
Evilyn's prayer was answered when she heard about Operation Christmas Child, an outreach headed by Franklin Graham, eldest son of evangelist Billy Graham.
The idea: fill shoe boxes with gifts and deliver them to needy children around the world.
"You wouldn't think that a simple gift like this could have that kind of impact, but for kids that are in orphanages, kids that are in poverty, kids that are living in dumps, kids that are in areas of conflict war, to give them a gift to let them know that there's somebody that knows who they are and cares about them and loves them," Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, said.
Evilyn, 12, was that somebody. She started the Shoe Box Club at age 8. It began small but grew quickly. Around 80 kids meet each month now to pack shoe boxes.
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Hope in a Shoe Box
Power of a Simple Gift
Seeing with the Eyes of God
"We've been running for four years and in those four years we've packed 2,500 shoe boxes," she said. "I want to help kids because I want them to be able to feel loved and know about Jesus like I do."
"'Kids helping kids around the world,' that's my motto!" she said.
Her shoe boxes represent millions of lives touched by a simple act of kindness. Ten million shoe boxes will be hand-delivered this year by land, air, sea, trucks, boats, trains and even elephants!
In December, the project reached a milestone, delivering shoeboxes to more than 100 million children since starting in 1993.
"What a great reason to celebrate today," Evilyn said.
Inspired by her passion for helping the poor, the 12-year-old was picked to hand-deliver the symbolic 100 millionth shoebox to a young child in the Dominican Republic.
She turned to her friends at the Shoe Box Club for help in putting the 100 millionth box together. They decorated it with a white paper covered with handprints from all the children serving in the group.
"Thanks everyone!" she told her club friends. "I could not have done it without you guys."
Then for several weeks she crisscrossed the country, taking the special shoe box on tour. At each stop, people put different mementoes in the box.
"I love you and I'm proud of you," Evilyn's father told her.
"I love you daddy!" she replied.
On a recent Wednesday morning, thousands of miles from her home in Fort Atkinson, Wis., Evilyn's prayer of helping needy children was answered.
"The last time we were sitting in a car traveling through a city was in New York dreaming about this moment and now we are finally here. Are you overwhelmed?" one shoebox volunteer asked Evilyn.
"Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! I'm practicing my Spanish!" she exclaimed. "Wow! We are finally here!"
It's a simple box with simple toys. In one box is a stuffed animal, some tissues, hygiene material, and a book. But for Samaritan's Purse and Operation Christmas Child, it's a simple box with a powerful message. Each box is delivered to these kids in the name of Jesus Christ.
At each distribution the Gospel is shared and children are given the opportunity to learn more about Christ through a 12-week discipleship program.
"God can do anything and if you believe that God can do anything with you, then anything can happen!" Evilyn said.
A Priceless Gift
In a small village in the Dominican Republic, Evilyn met 5-year-old Brenda Valdez and handed her the special shoe box filled with toys, school supplies, and a pink children's Bible.
"I have never received a gift like this in my life," little Brenda said.
The two spent time going through the presents. One special item was a heart-shaped necklace with the words, "Best Friends Forever."
Brenda broke it in two, giving one half of the necklace to Evilyn as a reminder of their special bond.
"I am glad to have Evilyn as a friend," Brenda said.
And Evilyn has a message for her friends in Wisconsin.
"To my friends back at home in the Shoe Box Club, it's really, really awesome that this box started with you and here it ends with Brenda," she said. "So keep packing your shoe boxes!"
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