Lopez, who grew up in an orphanage in Honduras, helped kick off the Operation Christmas Child campaign in the community Saturday morning at First Baptist Church.
Operation Christmas Child sends shoe boxes full of gifts, like small toys and toiletries to underprivileged children around the world.
Individuals and groups pack the boxes, which are then transported to collection centers before being shipped away.
Kate Tanis, the regional manager for Samaritan’s Purse in Tennessee and Kentucky, shared how Operation Christmas Child had grown over the years and impacted the lives of children from places like Mexico to Nepal.
Tanis said those who started Operation Christmas Child had no idea “how big God could make it” when it was started 20 years ago.
“We’re just now seeing that,” she said, adding the initiative has so far sent 9.2 million shoeboxes to 210 countries.
While it started in the U.S., nine other countries have begun packing and sending them.
She encouraged everyone to get involved by packing and sending shoeboxes and encouraging others to do the same.
Lopez, who grew up in Honduras and later attended college in Tennessee, said her parents were not around, and she, her twin sister and her other three siblings moved from orphanage to orphanage growing up.
Lopez said she still remembered the day she received a shoe box full of gifts from OCC.
In it were things like a small blue radio that allowed her to listen to music and candy, which she said she had never consumed before.
She said she slept with her box close to her after that, and the things inside became treasured possessions.
“For the first time, I had something I could call mine,” Lopez said.
As all children who receive shoe boxes from Operation Christmas Child still receive today, she also said she received a copy of a booklet that is in English called “The Greatest Journey.”
Tanis said the booklet teaches children about Jesus Christ, and children also have the opportunity to sign up for a free 12-week Bible class through a local church where they live.
Lopez said the box and the class were what helped her find her own faith.
In her box were a note and photo from the American girl who had helped pack it.
Lopez said it made her realize God cared enough about her to make sure someone had spent time and money to send her the box of gifts.
“For me, that meant a lot,” Lopez said. “He was showing me ‘yes, I do care for you.’”
Today, Lopez is a college graduate who enjoys getting involved with the Christian ministry she said impacted her life for the better.
“Now, I get the opportunity to send my own shoeboxes and tell [children] that there is hope,” Lopez said.
Tanis joined her onstage, and she showed the audience a shoebox she had pack to illustrate what she put in hers.
In the box were things like the ones she said she had received herself — including a blue radio.
“A shoebox is not just a simple shoebox,” Lopez said. “It changes a lot of the kids’ lives.”
Tanis said she expected churches throughout the Cleveland area to participate, and Life Care Centers of America’s corporate headquarters is set to be a collection point this year.
Though Operation Christmas Child is a Christian organization, Tanis said she hoped more groups other than churches would get involved as well.
The boxes should be filled with “gifts to delight a child.” These can include cars, balls, dolls, kazoos, stuffed animals, yo-yos, jump ropes, Etch-a-Sketch, school supplies, hygiene items — toothbrush, toothpaste, mild bar soap, comb, washcloth, sunglasses, toy jewelry, hair clips, ball caps, etc.
Seven dollars should be included to cover the cost of shipping and handling of the boxes.
Shoe boxes should not include food and liquids and only candy that cannot melt is allowed. War-related items like toy guns and grenades must also be excluded.
National Collection Week is Nov. 18 through 25.
For more information, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.