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Operation Christmas child
Ayla Bogart, Ella Yaipen, Gianna Brier, Marianna Gutierrez, and Alexa Palen, hold shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. [photo by Theresa Brier]

By: Jen Russon

For Simeon and Theresa Brier, fundraising is a family affair. Together with daughters Angelina and Gianna, they have donated charity work through their place of worship, Church by the Glades.

This Christmas season being no exception, Gianna Brier, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, took the reigns of Operation Christmas Child, along with the presidents of her school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society.

“This is my sixth time doing this. I started doing Operation Christmas Child when I was a kid, usually with my sister, our cousins, grandparents, and friends. It is truly amazing to see the looks on kids’ faces when they open their shoeboxes,” said Gianna.

In previous years, she said that standing outside of Publix and other Parkland storefronts to collect donations, netted big smiles from kids as far away as Africa, where over 168 million children receive shoeboxes through the Samaritan’s Purse project each year.

Gianna said she has watched videos of ecstatic children ripping the lids off at her church. While there is no way to know if the child on the video is opening one of the boxes she packed, Gianna said the feeling is, nonetheless, incredible.

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“I still have a thank you note from a little boy in Uganda from a couple of years ago,” she said proudly. “It’s also written in English.”

Gianna explained that, because of COVID-19, the “huge packing party” at her Heron Bay Home, usually attended by family and friends, had a different look in 2020.

The small group of girls raised about $2,000 and managed to pack 150 shoeboxes in spite of social distancing. They collected donations and purchased items for the boxes, finishing their work in about two weeks.

Gianna said they fell short of her goal, but it was still immensely gratifying to drop off the boxes, packed with needful things, at Grace Community Church in Boca Raton.

The shoeboxes will be routed to the headquarters for Operation Christmas Child in Boone, North Carolina, and shipped to over 160 countries worldwide this week.

Created in 1993 by Franklin Graham, the operation’s mission is to “provide God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Gianna’s mother, Theresa Brier, told Parkland Talk student volunteers, and members from the community, donated items such as small toys, hygiene items, crafts, school supplies, and other fun surprises.

“This year more than ever, we need to spread joy and love, especially to children in need. I’m thankful to our community for their generosity,” said Theresa.

She added toothbrushes were donated by Dr. Fabiola Liendo at Sawgrass Dental Arts; tennis balls from Ivan Baron and family; water thermoses from Cozen O’Connor Law firm, and others helped provide contents for gift boxes this year.

Gianna’s sister Angelina, who headed up previous years of Operation Christmas Child, is now a junior at the University of Florida; however, she still wants to return home to help with the 2021 fundraiser.

“Angelina is helping me plan an in-person event next year, so we can look forward to more people participating,” Gianna said, adding, “Beyond making you feel really good, this is a great way to earn service hours.”

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