Russian Adoptee, U.S. Hiker Changing Lives with Shoe Boxes

A Russian girl rescued from a loveless life in an orphanage and a former high school science teacher currently on a 477-mile hiking mission are both telling their remarkable personal stories for the sake of collecting shoe boxes.

Tanya Poteet, 19, was once a hopeless child in a Russian orphanage who thought no one loved her - including her still living alcoholic parents. Although her parents were poor, they could have afforded to buy her a small present with the money they spent on liquor.

But for 10 years she never received a present from her parents or anyone – until one day Operation Christmas Child came to her orphanage.

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The Samaritan's Purse project gave her the first gift in her life and reminded her that someone in the world still cared about a little Russian girl abandoned by her parents.

"I was told no one loved me and no one ever will," Poteet said. "My shoe box gift it was the first present I ever received."

While living at the orphanage in a room with 15 other girls, she said that she would sometimes disappear but that no one cared to look for her. She also used to walk 45 minutes in the freezing cold to visit her younger brother in another orphanage.

But her life changed at the age of 14. Poteet met an American Christian couple at an adoption camp who not only adopted her but also her two younger siblings who were all living in different orphanages.

As a family, her adopted mother took the children to go shopping for gifts to fill shoe boxes. It was then while packing the shoe boxes that Poteet realized that she had received a similar gift years before.

Now as a grown young woman who recently graduated from high school, Poteet has joined the Operation Christmas Child team as an intern. This summer she went on a mission trip to Ecuador with the ministry to deliver shoe boxes to poverty-stricken children.

"It reminded me that when I was 10 someone came and gave me a shoe box and showed me hope and now I get to do the same thing for those kids," Poteet said emotionally to The Christian Post.

Poteet says she wants to dedicate her life to work with an international ministry that cares for orphans and let them know that "someone loves them no matter what's going on."

In addition to Poteet's touching story, 57-year-old retired teacher David Barlow also has his own intriguing story to tell.

To raise awareness about Operation Christmas Child, Barlow has decided to go on a 40-day, 477-mile journey by foot on North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway – one of the busiest national parkways - from start to finish.

"I knew I wanted to do something to get people involved in helping others," Barlow said. "This is the perfect way for me to let others know how easy it is to help millions worldwide … with just a shoe box."

Barlow set off on the intimidating journey on Aug. 30. He will walk on difficult terrain carrying a 35-pound backpack full of supplies that he will stop to replenish only three times.

On average he walks 10-14 miles a day.

"It's actually a walk with the Lord," Barlow shared about his journey to The Christian Post during a break from his hike. "I mean, I talk with Him in the morning. I talk with Him in the evening when I start looking for a camp site."

Barlow is expected to complete his hike in mid-October.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child – the world's largest Christmas project – has hand-delivered more than 61 million shoe box gifts to needy children in some 100 countries who are suffering because of natural disasters, disease, war, terrorism, famine and poverty.

This year, the goal is to collect 8 million shoe boxes. The boxes are filled with simple items most people take for granted – toothpaste, small toys, school supplies, and sometimes shoes.

Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week is Nov. 17-24, although gift-filled boxes are welcomed year-round.

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