A shoebox changed a life

November 18, 2013
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Emily Skoczlas, 8, of Cecil Township packs a box with toothpaste for Operation Christmas Child. People gathered at Lighthouse Electric Co. in North Strabane Township with K-Love radio to pack a total of 3,477 boxes that will be sent to children. Order a Print
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Photos by Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Ron Rodgers of Eighty Four and Ben Brown of McKees Rocks load up and tally cartons of shoeboxes. The boxes are part of Operation Christmas Child where shoeboxes filled with hygiene items, toys and other small items are sent to more than 130 countries so children can get a Christmas gift. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Chelsea Heckman, with the choral group from Waynesburg University, dances and spins around with Maria Catana, 6, of Bethel Park to Christmas music from Adam Brock. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Livia Satterfield of Atlanta, Ga., spoke about how she received a shoebox when she lived in an orphanage in Romania. When Satterfield received her box, she was ecstatic to find hair clips, something she had always wanted as a little girl. Order a Print

Livia Satterfield was 12 when she opened a box that opened a new life.

“I had always wanted hair clips,” she said Saturday morning, now a 26-year-old recounting the high point of a young existence rampant with lows. She was living in a Romanian orphanage in 1999 when she received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox brimming with gifts.

Livia lifted a lid and, incredibly, the first items she saw were hair clips, 10 or 12.

“I was so excited, I put all of them in my hair,” she said.

Connie Satterfield had delivered the box to her, then delivered kindly advice: only a few clips at a time. Then, two years later, Satterfield delivered big time. She adopted Livia into her Atlanta family.

Microphone in hand, Livia recounted her saga to about 250 people at the Operation Christmas Child packing party. Lighthouse Electric Co. in North Strabane Township has hosted all five of the annual local events, in which residents from the region pack shoeboxes with items for children worldwide who have been affected by poverty, famine, natural disaster, war and terrorism.

Operation Christmas Child is a worldwide project sponsored by the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse. It started in 1993 and has resulted in the delivery of shoeboxes to more than 100 million children, a milestone met last year.

About 100 Lighthouse employees and more than 300 others took turns placing toys, school supplies, hygiene items – and, probably, hair clips – into the boxes. And they were busy.

The goal was to fill 3,000 boxes between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Volunteers did that in about half the time: an 11:05 announcement set the figure at 3,250.

These packers are more efficient than the Green Bay football team.

“I guess we will do this until we run out of materials,” Anton Mikec, chief operating officer of Lighthouse Electric, said with a smile at 11:06. The final tally ultimately was 3,477.

He was gratified by the generosity of those who donated gifts and time to this cause. Lighthouse was at the forefront of that largess Saturday, providing gifts, staff and its facility along Route 519. It teamed up with the 98.3 K-Love radio station to host the event, which included the live voice of Adam Brock, “American Idol” season 11 semifinalist; Extreme Couponer Chris Duff; and the Chick-fil-A cow.

The shoebox total was more than a quantum leap from last year’s figure of about 300. “We went over 3,000 – we added a zero,” said Mikec, whose contracting company was founded in 1984 by his grandfather, Tony Mikec, the chief executive officer.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to host this event,”Anton Mikec said. “But we should give all the glory to God and say thank you to the volunteers.”

Livia is thankful as well – for a much better life, symbolized by that shoebox from 14 years ago. Orphanage life in her homeland was difficult. She said hygiene there was “very low. We shared toothbrushes, five to 10 children would take a bath in the same water. I’d wear the same clothes for a week. We didn’t celebrate birthdays.”

Livia resided there, without any relatives, for 10 years. Though family members weren’t banned from the orphanage, she did not see her mother and brother during that entire decade. Livia has since reunited with her mother and brother and visits them in Romania every two years.

She has thrived in her new nation, eventually graduating from Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga. She is now the national spokeswoman for Operation Christmas Child, and she spoke freely to an appreciative crowd Saturday.

“I wanted to share my story about the shoebox,” Livia said. “Everybody here is passionate about this project, and they wanted to be involved.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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