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Apollo Beach youngster fills shoeboxes with gifts for needy kids around the world

APOLLO BEACH – A little girl with a big heart is making Christmas a bit brighter for 1,000 needy children in third-world countries.

About 60 friends and family members of 7-year-old Jordyn McNair spent Sept. 28 at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Apollo Beach filling 1,000 shoeboxes with 30,000 toys, toothbrushes, combs, crayons and other hygiene items for children who might not otherwise receive a gift on Christmas Day.

McNair, a home-schooled second-grader and the daughter of Erica and Doug McNair of Apollo Beach, not only coordinated the ambitious project but, with her mom in tow, approached businesses throughout South Shore seeking donations on behalf of her nonprofit organization, Faith Like a Child Inc.

“This is just her latest project,” said Erica McNair. “I’ve been helping her do a big project every year to serve others since she was 2. Last year she raised $11,500 to send her 15-year-old friend, Jenna, who has brain cancer, and her family to Disney World. This year she wanted to do the shoeboxes. We have a tradition we call ‘Love Projects’ in our family where we look for ways to meet the needs of others. Jordyn gets so excited and can’t wait to start every time we share a new project for our family to work on. In fact, she will often ask us to do more.”

“At first, I was going to do 100 shoeboxes,” said Jordyn McNair. “Then I decided to do 1,000.”

She began collecting items for the shoeboxes two months ago, writing letters to members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church and area businesses explaining the project and asking for donations. She also created signs and put them on store doors, requesting items for the shoeboxes.

The savvy youngster took advantage of social media to spread the word, publicizing the project through her own website, www.faithlikeachildinc.com, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

By far, the best strategy was a personal plea to the store owners and managers by the little girl.

“Some said ‘no’ but most of them said ‘yes,’ ” said Jordyn McNair.

Donations included more than 2,000 toothbrushes from area dental offices, more than 1,000 combs from Comfort Inn, pencils and pencil bags from Tampa Pediatric, wash cloths from Cosco, stickers from Steak ‘n Shake and shoeboxes from TJ Maxx.

Other items she purchased herself using proceeds from a garage sale, a lemonade stand and from the sale of artwork she created and sold through her website.

“It is awesome watching the Lord work through Jordyn,” said her mother.

After Jordyn McNair gathered all the items for the shoeboxes, she organized the Sept. 28 packing party at the church, recruiting friends and church members to help fill the shoeboxes for children age 4 to 15.

“The Bible says you should think of others before yourself,” Jordyn McNair explained her philanthropy. “It’s so sad that there are so many kids around the world who don’t have anything. It makes me feel good to know these kids will have a gift to open on Christmas.”

“It’s so wonderful to see all of these children here helping today,” said Barbara Chevalier, who brought along her 8-year-old granddaughter, Reagan, to help fill shoeboxes. “They’re learning early about spreading Jesus’ love.”

Once packed, the shoeboxes were transported by truck to Samaritan’s Purse, an international nonprofit that has overseen Operation Christmas Child, the distribution of gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children throughout the world, since 1993. This year, the nonprofit expects to collect more than 400,000 shoeboxes in Florida to support a worldwide collection goal of 9.8 million shoeboxes.

Julie Brigner, a member of the Samaritan’s Purse west coast team, stopped by the Apollo Beach church to check on the progress of Jordyn McNair’s project.

“It’s so great to see kids giving back,” she said. “It just fills your heart.”

Earlier that day, Brigner attended a program in which a young woman from Honduras talked about the impact receiving one of the shoeboxes had on her 20 years ago.

“She said it impacted her life greatly,” said Brigner. “You never know what affect receiving one of these boxes will have on a child.”

Anyone interested in donating to Operation Christmas Child, which is planning a national shoebox collection week Nov. 18-25, can call (407) 852-3727 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.

D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]

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