Shoebox gift was a lesson of giving that still resonates
Written by Nathan Howes
A shoebox may hold a pair of sneakers for some, but for Damaris Vezentan it had much more.
A mother of three, Vezentan is an ambassador for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), which provides Canadians an opportunity to get involved in a hands-on project from Samaritan’s Purse to help children in need overseas.
Shoeboxes are filled with hygienic items, school supplies, toys and candy, and shipped to children in West African and Latin American countries.
Vezentan recently embarked on a speaking tour across southwestern Ontario to tell the story of her shoebox and the impact it had-and continues to have-on her life.
The Kitchener, Ont., resident dropped by St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic School Thursday, Nov. 6 for two presentations to students.
When Vezentan was nine, OCC officials came to her town in Romania to distribute shoeboxes.
She was given her first-ever Christmas gift-a golden shoebox-which was so special to her it “rocked my world twice,” Vezentan said.
“We gathered together at church and all these happy people came with shoeboxes and they just started delivering to every one of us. We were told to line up and each one of us would get a box,” said Vezentan.
“I was so excited to receive my box and I couldn’t wait to see it.”
The first time Vezentan took the lid off, she immediately put it back on because she was afraid the items would disappear if she removed them from the box, she said.
“I’d never seen anything so pretty before, so I just wanted to make sure it lasted. I left the box untouched for a few days and I put it under the bed,” said Vezentan.
“When I had a sad day, I would pull it from under the bed, look at it and put the lid back on.”
On one such “sad day,” the OCC ambassador decided to open her shoebox, gasping at what she saw inside, Vezentan said.
The box contained a porcelain doll, stickers, colouring books and “one special item that I still have today,” she explained.
“It’s a journal… because I always love to write. When I opened (the lid) and found it towards the bottom of the box, I was so excited because my parents always wanted to buy me a journal,” said Vezentan.
“When I saw it, I was really excited because now I had something I really liked.”
Another thing that was “really special” in her box, Vezentan said, was a photograph of the family that donated the items.
She wanted to memorize a Bible verse written on the picture, but couldn’t because it was worded in English and she wasn’t familiar with the language at the time.
“That verse became “Love gives to me.”I decided instead of keeping that box just for me, to start sharing. The next day, I shared my colours and everything that was in the box at school with my friends,” said Vezentan.
Lesson learned from shoebox
“I learned when you love someone, you give and you share. That was the lesson I learned from the shoebox.”
At 15, Vezentan and her family immigrated to Canada and she reconnected with OCC.
The second time the shoebox “changed everything in my life,” Vezentan said, was when she went to Senegal, West Africa last year to deliver shoeboxes her own children had packed.
Exciting to see
“It was so exciting to see those children and give them the shoeboxes. When I got to deliver those shoeboxes, I completed the circle of giving. Instead of being on the receiving end of the shoebox, I was the giver,” said Vezentan.
Upon returning from Senegal, Vezentan launched a non-profit organization called Love Gives 3:16, which donates all proceeds to Operation Christmas Child.
Canadians donated more than 664,000 shoeboxes in 2013 and to date, OCC has collected and distributed more than 100 million shoebox gifts worldwide.
Students pack more than 2,000
St. Marguerite d’Youville students have packed approximately 2,000 shoeboxes in recent years, including close to 500 in 2014.
“You’re a really cool school (St. Marguerite d’Youville). I really like it here. I was so excited when I heard that you packed almost 500 shoeboxes. That’s really awesome,” said Vezentan.