A Pennsylvania woman overcomes physical challenges and encourages everyone—especially young people—to pack Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for boys and girls in need around the world.
The first thing you notice about 24-year-old Amanda Urgolites is her smile—bright, warm, welcoming, continual. That’s not so unusual, you might say. But Amanda’s radiant smile is all the more remarkable because she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a rare and incurable collagen deficiency disorder that causes her ligaments to stretch and malfunction. Her bones dislocate up to 300 times per day.
“It can be extremely painful,” Amanda said. “Praise God for my wheelchair because it saves me so much pain. Some people see me in my wheelchair and say, ‘How are you so happy?’ It’s because I follow Christ in everything I do. He’s the reason I can smile.”
Satisfied in Him, Amanda is excited to share her joy with children in need around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
A Passion for Shoeboxes
Amanda grew up packing gift-filled shoeboxes with her family in Hastings, Pennsylvania, a small, close-knit borough near Johnstown. When she was 5 years old, her dad was diagnosed with cancer. Money became tight, and a stranger bought her and her brother Christmas presents that year. “A stranger loved us enough to care,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting much, but I got a name-brand art kit.”
She thought this must be what it’s like to get a shoebox. Her passion for Operation Christmas Child grew from that moment on. She wanted kids to know the thrill of receiving an unexpected gift. But even more, she wanted them to know Jesus.
“Behind the shoeboxes is the love of Christ. The kids are told how much Jesus loves them,” Amanda said. “The box connects them to Christ and that’s what it’s all about. Many of the kids then become disciples and continue to [help] fulfill the Great Commission.”
Turning Grief Into Good
Four years ago, Amanda was struck with EDS. She went from being an active runner and hiker to using a wheelchair—all within six months. She prayed for healing but none came. Grief overwhelmed her. “And then one day I was just laying down and bawling, and I was so sick of being miserable. I said, ‘I’m done! I have to quit grieving.’ So, I just started praying about it and started figuring out how I could turn my grief into something good.”
One way Amanda started turning her pain into something positive was by teaching herself to sew. She saw drawstring bags being sewed on a video online and realized she could make them to put in shoeboxes. “The first bag took about 45 minutes to make and a few tears,” she said. “Now, I can make them in two minutes. I like the idea of giving a child something that they can carry their belongings in, so they can keep it all close. That’s very important for a child.”
Last year, Amanda made 25 bags to put in shoeboxes. This year, her goal is to make 1,500! And she’s expanded her sewing to also include sturdy and colorful over-the-shoulder bags, purses, backpacks, and aprons. Her family buys “shopping cart loads” of fun toys, school supplies, and hygiene items year-round for shoeboxes, she said, “because it’s the one way we can help.” Each fall, they donate the goodies to two local churches near their home in Hastings that combine to pack more than 1,000 boxes each year. One or more of Amanda’s unique handmade bags, purses, and aprons will go in each box. She also is creating around 150 kits for beading, sewing, and fishing.
But that’s not all Amanda puts in the boxes. Prayer, she says, is the most important. “I pray over my boxes. When a child touches one of these boxes I want them to feel loved and know that Jesus is the reason that we packed them.” She also puts a brief personal letter in each box that says in part, “Jesus loves you so so so much! And I do too!” And she mentions that she’s in a wheelchair. “Disabilities aren’t just here in America,” she said. “I include that I can’t walk just to encourage somebody else like me. It’s my duty to be a guide for younger kids and encourage them.”
“Behind the shoeboxes is the love of Christ. The kids are told how much Jesus loves them.”
Amanda believes that packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes this year is more important than ever. “With COVID-19, there are a lot more kids who are hurting. There are a lot more kids in need,” she said. “I believe we’re going to need more boxes. And it’s so easy to do. You can even pack a box online.”
As for young adults like herself, Amanda fears that many of them, even Christians, lack a passion for service and that “a lot of them think that the only way to serve is to go overseas. But there’s so much we can do right here by simply packing shoeboxes. It’s such an amazing cause. Operation Christmas Child tells children all over the world that there is an amazing Jesus who loves them. How awesome is that?”
National Collection Week is Nov. 16-22. Find the drop-off location nearest you.