Vladimir Prokhnevskiy received a shoebox gift at age 9 while living in Ukraine. Vladimir grew up in a three-bedroom apartment with his parents and eight siblings.

“It was a hard time for us,” he said. “We grew up very poor. We survived on potatoes and rice.”

Vladimir had to share shoes and even his toothbrush with several of his siblings. With his parents struggling to provide food, there wasn’t money for anything beyond necessity.

“Getting gifts was rare,” he said. “We never had gifts.”

Vladimir still remembers the night he received his shoebox. He remembers the brutally cold winter night when he rode a bus and then a train to reach the church where the shoebox distribution would be held. The colorful presents and gifts inside provided Vladimir and the other children a momentary escape from their struggles.

“We were just being kids,” Vladimir said about that special night.

But what Vladimir remembers most is how special he felt.

“They (church leaders) showed us unconditional love and presented the Gospel to us,” he said.

Vladimir and his family moved to the United States in 2000, and he now works at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He is known as a “full circle” speaker as part of the Samaritan’s Purse ministry.

At 7 p.m. today, Vladimir will be the guest presenter at a rally for the Northwest Ohio Operation Child Project. The rally will be held at the Winebrenner TLB Auditorium, 950 N. Main St., on the University of Findlay campus.

In addition, Christian comedian Will McDaniel will perform.

Members of the community and all area churches are invited to join in to learn more about the Operation Christmas Child project and how they can get involved. Shoebox collection is Nov. 12-19. Visit www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/ for more information.