Livia Satterfield spent her 12th birthday in an orphanage in Galati, Romania, one she had called home since the age of two.
She was allowed to bathe once a week, but the staff at the orphanage never changed the bath water, Satterfield said. She shared a toothbrush with other girls in the home and used it only once or twice a week.
“I wore the same clothes for a week,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield’s life changed when she received a shoe box stuffed with gifts as part of Operation Christmas Child, which distributes essential items and small gifts in shoe boxes to the world’s neediest children.
Her gift was hand delivered to her by Connie Satterfield of Sharpsburg, Georgia, who later ended up adopting her.
“We were really, really hurting for attention,” Satterfield said. “We really were desperate to be loved.”
Satterfield, now 24, had dreamed of having hair clips.
But presents in the orphanage were typically taken away by the workers who gave them to their own children, Satterfield said.
When the shoe boxes were delivered, she opened the box and found hair clips among the other small items.
Every hair clip in the package went immediately in her hair, Satterfield said.
The other items in the box, a toothbrush, soap and toothpaste were equally welcomed.
“Hygiene items meant the world to me,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield, upon moving to the U.S. shortly after she received the box, quickly began the annual ritual of volunteering with the organization that gave her one of her first presents.
It’s an effort to give the same joy she felt to other children, she said.
“I can do that through this box,” Satterfield said.
While most of the boxes are delivered by local volunteers, some people from the U.S. do make trips to help with the monumental effort of handing out more than 8 million gifts to children, organizers of the drive said.
Jenny Martin, from Columbia, S.C., trekked to Haiti in February with roughly 40 other volunteers to hand-deliver gifts to children affected by the devastating earthquake that rocked the country the year before.
The children were timid at first, she said. Many children weren’t sure the gifts were theirs to keep.
“Presents weren’t something they were used to,” Martin said.
The children of the one-room school house with a dirt floor where Martin delivered the gifts immediately wore the sunglasses and hats packed in the boxes, she said. The children shared candy with their classmates and clung to the volunteers.
It was a scene very familiar to Satterfield, who said she instantly took to the woman who would later adopt her.
“When I saw her, I literally was glued to her,” Satterfield said.
Organizers of Operation Christmas Child said the gifts are a way to reach out to world’s neediest children and provide them with gifts and pass on love and hope.
The program is collecting gift boxes at thousands of donation centers across the U.S. from Nov. 14-21. The boxes are then collected at distribution points and shipped to local volunteers in more than 100 countries, who distribute them to children.
“Those are the kinds of moments that are happening 8.5 million times (a year),” said Randy Riddle, U.S. director for operations for Operation Christmas Child.
To find out more visit ShoeBoxBlitz.com.