Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse reportedly airlifted over 60,000 gift-filled shoeboxes to the Kurdish-controlled region of Northern Iraq, sending Christmas boxes to children who were forced to flee their homes after Islamic State militants invaded the area.
CNN reports that through Operation Christmas Child, a program run by Franklin Graham and his Samaritan's Purse organization, people from all over the United States, United Kingdom and Canada filled 60,000 shoeboxes with small gifts, hard candy and uplifting messages, which will be flown from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The shoeboxes will be distributed to children living in Samaritan's Purse refugee camps as well as children living in the neighboring areas of Dohuk.
"Many of these children have never received a gift in their lives and that was when they were living in their normal circumstances [before the ISIS takeover]," Operation Christmas Child Domestic Director Randy Riddle told the AP. "Now, they have been removed from everything that they know: their homes and their families. They are living in the refugee camp and these gifts will provide a moment of hope. Of course, they will be delivered in the name of Jesus."
Those packing boxes are encouraged to send a photo of themselves along with a letter encouraging children that they are special and loved by God.
"These children will be reminded that there is a God who loves them. That is the point and the purpose of Operation Christmas Child, is to share the love of Jesus Christ," Riddle said. "We see it as opportunities to share the gospel and we want these children to know that they are loved by not only from people [all over the world] but there is a God who loves them, and that will be the message that these children will hear."
The United Nations has estimated that there are roughly one million refugees displaced in Syria and Iraq due to ISIS activity.
Graham says it's important to try and help these refugees who have almost no hope otherwise.
"Most of them are children," Graham told CNN. "About 70% of Syrian refugees are children. And they've fled with just the clothes on their back, they have nothing."
Samaritan's Purse launched Operation Christmas Child in 1993. The first year, only a handful of volunteers sent out 20,000 shoeboxes. This year, the organization expects to send out 10 million.
The shoeboxes are sent by plane, train and boat, and will this year go to more than 150 countries, according to their website.