Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boxes of Hope for Kids; Group Gives to Kids in Poverty, War

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Boxes of Hope for Kids; Group Gives to Kids in Poverty, War

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Maraghy, County Line staff writer

Patti Burns and Margery Flannagan take a break from their jobs caring for the elderly to wrap hundreds of shoeboxes in Christmas paper.

The women, employees of Life Care Center of Orange Park, will fill each box with lollipops, a teddy bear, crayons, a coloring book, a toothbrush, soap, paper, pencils and other items.

The boxes are for Operation Christmas Child, a 10-year-old international outreach program sponsored by North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.

Franklin Graham will ship the boxes to 65 war-torn, impoverished countries where they will be distributed to children whom Santa doesn't normally visit. Many are orphaned, live in trash heaps and survive on scraps.

Two Clay County churches and the Life Care Center are among the 1,200 shoebox collection sites across the country.

Last year, churches, schools, civic clubs and individuals across the United States donated 2.8 million shoeboxes filled with gifts and goodies. Florida residents supplied more than 100,000 boxes.

Forrest Preston, the owner of the 250 Life Care Centers of America, learned of the program about five years ago and has encouraged employees at all his centers to participate.

Preston also pays for about a dozen employees to travel with Graham to help distribute the boxes. They are selected via lottery.

John Driggers, executive director of the Orange Park location, said he's put his name in the hat each year but has yet to be picked.

He and his employees have watched videotaped footage of Graham and his helpers handing out boxes to street children.

"It's heart wrenching," he said. "To see these young people in Romania or South America who are destitute, without families. Some actually live on the streets or under the streets in sewers. Kids age 7 and 8 and some 13 and 14, taking care of each other."

Flannagan, marketing director of the Life Care Center of Orange Park, said she'll never forget one boy she saw in a video who received a bag of hard candy in his box. He savored it as if he'd never before tasted such a delicacy. …

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