Danville woman finds friendship through Operation Christmas Child

Ann Shackelford and Elisee Attiogbey visited his Attiogbey's old school during her visit to Lome, Togo, Africa.

Each year, several area churches and individuals come together to participate in Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a program by Samaritan’s Purse in which participants fill shoe boxes with toys, toiletries, school supplies and other items to send to several different countries around the world for Christmas. Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian organization that works to provide physical and spiritual aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine around the world.

Ann Shackelford, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Danville and a local hairdresser, helps to organize the program at her church and has been making boxes for several years. She always includes notes with her name and address, in case recipients want to send letters back.

In 2015, Shackelford received the surprise of her life when she got a response from someone in Togo, Africa who didn’t even receive a box from her.

In 2010, Elisee Attiogbey found a letter that Shackelford wrote in garbage at an orphanage in Lome, Togo, Africa. Nineteen-year-old Attiogbey lived in the orphanage before aging out, but stuck around a little longer to help out. The day he finally left the orphanage, he was rummaging through the rubbish when he came across the note in a small box.

Attiogbey didn’t receive a shoebox, as he was too old, but he still uncovered a gift in finding the letter. He didn’t know a lot of English, but his mother had taught him scripture, so he recognized the words “Jesus” and “young man.” He knew the letter was for him.

“He said this is for me,” Shackelford said. “He said I’m 19, I’m a young man, this letter is written for me. So it’s sort of like a miracle that he ever got it.”

Shackelford put that particular letter in a box in 2009, meaning she received a response nearly 6 years after. Attiogbey learned English before finally sending her a response in 2015.

The letter came at a difficult time for Shackelford, as her husband Donnie had just had his leg amputated and was recovering.

She tried repeatedly to send Attiogbey letters and cards in response, but each one was returned to her. However, one day not too long after she received a letter, she received a Facebook message from Attiogbey himself, who had borrowed a friend’s cell phone.

Over the years, Shackelford and Attiogbey kept in touch, sending each other messages through the website. Shackelford learned more about his life, including how his father had deserted his mother, forcing her to send Attiogbey to an orphanage so he would be provided for.

He was made to leave the orphanage at 19. However, a science teacher by the name of Dan Cobey had taken special interest in him and made sure he was able to go to college.

Today, Attiogbey is 29-years-old and now close to completing his master’s degree in communication technology. He also recently got married.

In July of this year, Shackelford took a trip she’d never dreamed of: to Lome to visit Attiogbey, four years after their first correspondence.

“He said I want you go come see my beautiful Africa,” she said. “...I felt called to go.”

To help with the costs to get there, church members organized yard sales, hot dog luncheons, and more. She ended up having almost exactly what she needed to make the trip, which was approximately $7,000. Her granddaughter, Crystal Shackelford, joined her on the two-week journey so the 78-year-old didn’t go alone.

“Once I realized that God wanted me to go and all the doors were open, I never had another fear,” she said.

While in Africa, they visited Attiogbey’s mother, the orphanage he lived in, museums, the port and more.

“I enjoyed every second of it, from the time I left home to the time I got back,” Shackelford said. “I never would’ve dreamed of going across the ocean like that.”

For Shackelford, the journey that began in 2015 with the letter received has been like gaining another child. The two both have an interest in scripture and devotions, which is what they speak often about.

“I really think that God’s hand was in it,” she said. “I don’t think that anything like this would’ve happened, just a simple thing of him finding the note [without God]...I want to live long enough to see his life like my own children’s.”

Like Shackelford, many people in the area participate in OCC each year. Jo Ann Johnson, media relations and coordinator for the OCC Piedmont VA area team, said that 11,989 boxes were packed last year in the Pittsylvania County, Halifax County and Danville areas.

Throughout the United States, there are 5,000 drop off areas, with 400 area teams.

The program began in 1990, and Samaritan’s Purse got involved in 1993. Boxes usually include hygiene items, school supplies, a “wow” item such as balls, dolls and other toys, jewelry, caps/gloves and more. The boxes are sent to more than 100 countries around the world.

“Just imagine giving hope and love to a child, a lot of them have never received a gift like this,” Johnson said. “This is a way to help children in other countries and to let them know they have that hope and love.”

The boxes also cost $9 to send, which helps to collect, process and ship the boxes, as well as provides for ministry materials to include with the box.

This year’s goal is to collect 9.1 million boxes in the United States.

For more information, Johnson directs everyone to the Samaritan’s Purse website at samaritanspurse.org to see lists for what to include, learn how to build a box online and more.

Shackelford recommends everyone write a letter with a name and return address in a box, if they would like to have contact with the people they’re reaching like she did.

“Unless you put your name and return address, there’s no way they can contact you to thank you or so that you can get to know them,” she said.

Operation Christmas Child's National Collection Week is Nov. 18-25, and several sites in the area will be open for donations.

This year, Chatham-area residents hope to collect more than 12,708 gifts to contribute to the 2019 global goal of reaching 11 million children.

Area Collection Sites:

Danville, VA - Pittsylvania Baptist Association

186 Deer Run Road

Danville VA 24540

Mon, Nov. 18: 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 10:30 a.m.- 3:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 10:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Danville, VA - Brosville United Methodist Church

121 Long Circle

Danville VA 24541

Mon, Nov. 18: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 18: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Hurt, VA - Monte Vista Baptist Church

1737 Grit Road

Hurt VA 24563

Mon, Nov. 18: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Sun, Nov. 24: 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Mon, Nov. 25: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Nathalie, VA - Childrey Baptist Church

1224 Childrey Church Road

Nathalie VA 24577

Mon, Nov. 18: 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 4:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

Alton, VA - Black Walnut Baptist Church

1061 Black Walnut Church Road

Alton VA 24520

Mon, Nov. 18: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 3:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Ringgold, VA - Ringgold Baptist Church

4620 Ringgold Church Road

Ringgold VA 24586

Mon, Nov. 18: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 4:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Chatham, VA - Open Bible Baptist Church

20669 US Highway 29

Chatham VA 24531

Mon, Nov. 18: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Tue, Nov. 19: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Wed, Nov. 20: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Thu, Nov. 21: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Fri, Nov. 22: 4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Sat, Nov. 23: 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Sun, Nov. 24: 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Mon, Nov. 25: 9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

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