A pair of pink princess slippers gave her hope. She brought her story to Tri-Cities

A pair of pink princess slippers and a photo made all the difference to a young girl growing up in Central Asia.

While Alina Aisina’s faith in God was not shaken, she said it was continuously questioned by people in the former Soviet country. Her family’s faith made her an outsider, even once leading a teacher to throw her against a wall.

After a church service when she was about 6, she was led to a backroom where there was a stack of Christmas presents. She was handed a pink and purple wrapped shoebox covered with Disney Princesses.

“It smelled like new things,” she said. “I don’t think people know what new smells like. ... My wow item, they were pink dress up heels.”

Aisina, now 22, is on a four-day tour of Oregon and Washington to share her experience receiving an Operation Christmas Child gift box.

For 10 years, Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization, has led community efforts to fill shoeboxes with school supplies, toiletries, a toy and a message of hope for children worldwide.

It was the picture of a blonde American girl in Aisina’s box that caught her eye.

“Why would a complete stranger send this to me? Because of the love of God,” she said. “It was a time when I really needed to know that I was loved by the heavenly Father.”

When she came to the U.S. with her mother and sister in 2008, she began putting together her own boxes. She has forgotten how many she has packed since she started. Then, three years ago, she became a spokeswoman for the organization.

She visits churches, schools and other gatherings to talk about how much the gift meant to her.

Organizers hope her efforts will help them reach their goal of 17,500 shoeboxes from people in the region.

Anyone interested in joining the cause can use an average-size shoebox, and then pick whether they want to buy items for a girl or a boy.

Then choose the age of the child, either 2-4, 5-9, 10-14.

The organization suggests finding a medium to large toy like a soccer ball with a pump or a stuffed animal, and hygiene items, school supplies and other fun toys. Suggested items can be found online.

A list of collection locations also is available online, including Bethel Church in Richland and South Hills Church in Kennewick. Boxes will be collected Nov. 18-25.

“I am just amazed by the people involved in this,” Aisina said. “They have this heart for children. It’s just an incredible and exciting thing to be a part of.”

In her packages she includes a photo and her email address, and has heard from parents who thanked her.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.