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This past year, COVID-19 left boys and girls around the world feeling fearful and uncertain. And they were all connected by their shared search for hope.

Despite the pandemic, millions of shoebox packers shared the true meaning of Christmas with these children in need this past holiday season.

This includes some 7,809,410 gifts packed nation-wide for the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child, with 415,403 built online.

It was a record year for Build a Shoebox Online. Because of partnership in communities across the United States, more people than ever chose to participate in this way.

Combined with those collected from partnering countries in 2020, the ministry is now sending more than 9.11 million shoebox gifts to children around the world.

Locally, the West Central PA area collected 13,835 shoebox gifts. The area encompasses Indiana, Jefferson and Clearfield counties.

Karla Sunderlin, West Central PA area coordinator, said the pandemic posed many challenges, as virus restrictions shuttered churches and canceled meetings of student and community groups.

Store hours were also limited and leisurely shopping was discouraged, she said, but “by the grace of God and commitment of our people, we were able to pack and transport 13,835 shoebox gifts to children in need.

“Mid-summer we decided we’d be grateful for any boxes … and little did I know that we would be able to pack, collect and send almost 2,000 more shoebox gifts than we did in 2019.

“This is no small feat in a normal year, so I am overjoyed and completely thrilled. It’s an overwhelming feeling that this little area in Pennsylvania has such a giving spirit.”

Sunderlin said she is honored to lead her team of local volunteers, and offered up heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped the West Central PA area reach children around the world.

She looks forward to 2021 with plans to not only grow her team, but also its shoebox collection efforts.

National Collection Week will take place Nov. 15-22.