Once a shoebox gift recipient as child, UGA grad gives back


To pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, you simply use an empty cardboard or plastic shoebox and decide whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl. Then you select an age category: 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14 and fill with gifts of your choice — dolls, toy cars, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos. School supplies are also warmly received as are accessories like sunglasses, hair clips and hygiene items such as soap and toothbrushes.

For more information, go to www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/pack-a-shoe-box/.

You can mail or drop off in person the shoebox gift to the following local processing center (the space is donated so it moves around each year):

Operation Christmas Child, 425 Horizon Drive, Suwanee, GA 30024.

The metro Atlanta processing center will accept shoeboxes up until Dec. 20.

Sauleja Satkute’s life comes full circle this month in her hometown in Lithuania, where she will volunteer with Operation Christmas Child in the same church where she was given a special shoebox gift as a child.

Satkute, now 23, recently graduated from the University of Georgia. When she was about 7 years old, she helped throw a Christmas party for underprivileged families at her church, Good News Baptist Church in Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania.

Back in the late 1990s, money was scarce, and there was very little, if any, for extras like toys and gifts. Money was tight in her family, but she wasn’t thinking about herself. She was just happy to be part of the festivities. She loved seeing the children’s faces light up as she handed them shoebox gifts. Still, while helping clean up after the party, Satkute was given her very own box with small dolls, a notebook, balloons and her favorite — a set of markers.

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“It was a really big deal to me because I love to draw, art has always been my passion,” Satkute said in an email. She recently graduated with a degree in art and psychology. “Back then, I loved to create little pieces of art out of anything I could get my hands on, and those markers opened a new world of possibilities.”

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to more than 113 million children in more than 150 countries.

While Satkute was delighted by the presents, she said above everything, she was deeply touched that people thousands of miles away would put these shoebox gifts together.

“My smile was so big, I couldn’t express the joy I felt inside,” said Satkute, who recently moved back to Lithuania.

Later this month, she will hand out shoebox gifts.

While studying in Atlanta, Satkute became good friends with Jenn Twitchell, a fellow student. They met at the Baptist College Ministry at Georgia State University (Satkute studied first at GSU and then transferred to UGA). Earlier this year, Twitchell, also 23, got a job at Samaritan’s Purse as a media associate for Operation Christmas Child.

When Twitchell told Satkute about her new job at Samaritan’s Purse, Satkute told her special connection to the charity.

Metro Atlanta has one of the nine Operation Christmas Child processing centers across the country. The organization is hoping at least 950,000 boxes will pass the Southeast regional office. From Atlanta, the gift-filled shoeboxes will head to several countries around the globe including India, Jamaica, Chad, Mali, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan. Last year, the organization collected more than 7.5 million boxes, and it is hoping to collect closer to 10 million this year. The metro Atlanta processing center will accept shoeboxes up until Dec. 20.

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Twitchell started filling shoeboxes with gifts as a Girl Scout when she was about 12 years old. This year, she filled a box with art supplies, a small stuffed animal, toothpaste and pencils along with some of her Instagram photos of her travels to London and one of a serene pond in Atlanta.

“I tried to include visuals of places that would spark the child’s creativity who receives it because most likely those pictures are of things they’ve never seen before,” she said.

Meanwhile, Satkute is looking forward to distributing them at her church, where she is a volunteer.

“I really feel God has called me to give back to the children in Lithuania. There are not as many Christians there like in the United States, so God will use me to show them his love,” Satkute explained.

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