Tanya Poteet

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/17/art.poteet.jpg
caption=”Tanya Poteet, 18, volunteers with Operation Christmas Child.”]
Tanya Poteet says she will never forgot how she was abused and abandoned by her parents in Russia when she was eight years old. She grew up in an orphanage, separated from her brother and sister, hearing that she was worthless and would never be loved. The first time she felt like anyone cared about her was when she received a shoe box full of Christmas presents from a charity in the U.S. called Operation Christmas Child.

Now 18, Tanya lives in St. Louis with her biological siblings and their adopted family.  With more happiness and stability than she’s ever known, she still wanted to help Operation Christmas Child, the group that gave her so much.  The organization hand-delivers millions of decorated shoe boxes filled with letters, candy, school supplies and other necessities to needy kids in 90 countries.

Tanya just returned from Quito, Ecuador delivering shoe box gifts to kids in orphanages there. Contrary to the name, Operation Christmas Child believes that giving shouldn’t only be limited to Christmas time for the neediest youngsters in the world. Whether it was a pencil or socks from the dollar store, Tanya knows first hand how something small can mean so much.

Update: Watch the CNN.com Live interview

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74 Responses to Tanya Poteet

  1. Kay Shinn says:

    Our society tells us to look out for ourselves and to attain financial wealth is to attain success; however, this remarkable young lady is showing that what matters most is giving back and caring about others. Operation Christmas Child is about sharing hope and Tanya is doing a terrific job doing just that! Well done, good and faithful servant…well done!

  2. Pablo Faja says:


  3. brian says:

    Well Tanya,

    As a parent who also adopted a child I am very proud of you. My son 17 today was rasied to give back and I am glad to see you doing that, keep up the greart work and the world is a better place you are in it.

  4. Maria Sadim says:

    Hi Tanya,

    I’m from Ecuador and I’ve given, on and off thru the years, to orphanages in Guayaquil. I plan on raising some money and hope to send some gifts the beginning of next year.

    Keep up the good work!


  5. susie says:

    tanya….what a happy ending for you….but really just the beginning…how can your project be coordinated with other cities, states, etc.?…i would like to get involved, it sounds like fun and much needed!

  6. Shannon Dvorak says:

    Tanya –

    What a beautiful thing you are doing! Clearly, the world would be a better place if more people ‘adopted’ your attitude of others before self. I am proud of you and so glad that you are with a loving family now. Keep up the good work – it is always rewarded – s.

  7. Linda says:

    Our Foursquare Church in Oklahoma City, OK has participated in Operation Christmas Child for the last 4 years and it just gets bigger every year. We absolutely love this organization and what they are accomplishing. I hope more groups of any kind get involved with it!

  8. Michael says:

    Tanya, why do you think that so many people in this world that have the money and ability, refuse to help others that need (not want) the help in the worst way, while the people that have the least to give, give the most.

  9. Diana says:

    Thank you for your willing heart to give sacrificially for those less fortunate. It is an honor to work along side you through Operation Christmas Child. Know that as more people become aware of the project and the opportunity to give shoe box gifts, more children’s lives will be changed and hope will be given.
    Your service is making an eternal difference! What would you do to get more people to be involved in packing a shoe box gift? How can we help encourage others to make a difference?

  10. Sarah Beth says:

    I am very proud of you. You are a wonderful young lady with a very focused mind and heart. You are giving back what you can to God just as He did for everyone! I am honored to call you my friend, but more importantly my sister in Christ.


    Could you share with the world how much The Love of God means to you, Could you say that even when you were lonely and being hurt in Russia, there was something within you that kept you going? … He was looking after you… ?

  12. Sandy says:

    Whoever says God doesn’t still perform miracles hasn’t heard your story. Thank you for allowing Christ to use you to make a difference in the world today. You are a blessing and I am very proud of you, my daughter. Love, Mom

  13. gaye says:

    So happy to hear about this wonderful opportunity you have to share your powerful story. Please know that our family will be praying for you tomorrow during your interview. You are a testimony that such a simple gift offered in His name really can change a life.
    We are proud of you!
    Gaye Newlun (Zach’s mom/ SPY team)

  14. Michael says:

    Tanya … you’re awesome!!!
    Your loving brother, Michael

  15. jessie t. says:

    I am so thankful I got to meet you and hear what God has done in your life. Keep telling your story, you are truly amazing and God is definitely using you in incredible ways! I’ll be praying for you! Keep it up, chica!

  16. Jered says:

    Hey, Tanya. I just want you to know that I will be watching via the internet. I will be praying for you also…
    I know that God will give you a clear mind during the interview.

  17. Uncle J says:

    You Rock! ! Keep following God’s will and you can’t go wrong. Love ya ! !

  18. Vicki H. says:

    We’ll be listening in today. I heard you share your powerful story in Nashville earlier this year and now Emma got to be with you in Ecuador with the SPY team. You are discovering the good use of yourl iife and it is a beautiful thing to see. Operation Christmas Child shows how in giving you also receive and in receiving you also give. It’s powerful that you have been on both sides of that. Blessings on you! Vicki Humphreys (Emma’s mom)

  19. Aleasha says:

    Tanya, I know that God is with you and the one doing the work through you. It is amazing how He really does use all of our life experiences to work together for good if we allow Him to. I am blessed by His love that I see in you and how His love overflows to all those around you. There are a lot of kids in the world who need love, and Operation Christmas Child is a great way to reach out to them and show them someone cares. May many more people be encouraged to become involved in OCC this year so we can continue to see children’s faces around the world light up when they receive a box and realize someone out there cares for them. Thanks for doing your part with such passion! Lots of love!

  20. Karen Brooks says:

    I am the prayer Coordinator here for Operation Christmas Child in East Tn and I was priveledged to hear you give your testimony at one of our training workshops in Nashville. I have shared your story with our prayerteam here and also with our youth at church and you have touched and inspired many lives that you don’t even know about. Our prayer team is praying for you and we are excited to hear you today. God has an extraordinary plan for your life and it is awesome watching it unfold. God bless you ! We are so proud of you!

  21. William says:

    Hey Tanya,
    I can not wait to see you sharing your love for the Lord and this orginization. I’ll be watching today. Don’t be nervous about the interview, God will use whatever you say in his own way and plan. I’ll be praying for you, and for the work you are doing.
    Your Friend,

  22. Dad says:

    You did great. Hope this gets lots of people interested in helping others.
    Love, Dad

  23. Kim Smith says:

    Tanya, you are such an inspiration to so many teens and other adopted children! So proud of you and the work you are doing to bring Christ into the lives of other orphans and to making a difference in their lives! It will be so amazing to see God’s plan how He will continue using you. I pray and hope that your interview will open more eyes & hearts for churches to step up, make a difference to so many children around the world and do this wonderful project called Operation Christmas Child. Love you!
    Your forever friend!

  24. margie hinshaw says:

    I am proud to include you in our family and one of my 10 grandchildren. Russia’s lost is our gain. You prove over and over again that God works in amazing ways. We love you! You go girl –
    for Jesus!! Love Grandma

  25. shannon says:

    you are an inspiration! I know that many children will be blessed through your service with operation christmas child. I can’t wait to pack more shoe boxes!

  26. Mechy says:

    I’m a mom of two, 15 and 20, as a mom I feel so proud of a young lady like you. You are really making the difference. When I shared your testimony with my children they got more inspied to pack a shoe box. My daughter even took the idea and to spread the word at her work place. Thank you Tanya, You are not only working to touch those little ones in other countries, but God is using you, within families in your own country.
    God Bless You,

  27. deirdre says:

    What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing your story and giving back to so many kids.

  28. Kay Shinn says:

    You were a perfect example of God’s love during your interview! May your blessings be many and your sorrows few as you seek to serve through Operation Christmas Child!

  29. WKS says:

    Tanya, May the Lord continue to bless your service to the Lord Jesus Christ. Queen Esther was called for a time in her life to serve…may the Lord strengthen you to continue to answer your call to serve through Operation Christmas Child!

  30. Stephanie Flores says:

    It was great hearing you talking about Operation Christmas Child. As you once were blessed by a simple gift, it’s amazing to see you now blessing others. I could tell you have a beautiful heart and that your Heavenly Father has amazing plans ahead for you! Keep doing what your doing and don’t let anyone stop you! Blessings, Stephanie from Florida 🙂

  31. Nicole Sheldon says:


    My prayer for you is that God would continue to show Himself to you more and more as you serve Him…….what an amazing opportunity that you had to go to Ecuador and give shoeboxes to children that also need to hear about God and His love! I’m excited that you are continuing the gift that was given to you through Operation Christmas Child……….I’ll be praying for you! Blessings…..Nicole from MN

  32. Di says:

    You are such an encouragement to other teenagers and adults as well. I think that what Operation Chirstmas Child does is so significant. Is it hard to be involved?
    Becuase you have had a rough childhood, don’t you think that the best way to overcome is to give to others? Just wondering what you do to help you oversome big obstacles.

  33. Tanya says:

    hey tanya,
    wow its so awesome to see your story and see the effects that it has. i’m so glad that you have been able to overcome the hard things in your life and use them to help make differences in other childrens lifes. And experiencing Ecuador with you was an honor!

  34. Clara says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing story, for being such a radiant light for Christ and for the work you are doing through OCC. May God richly bless you as you are blessing others through this awesome ministry. Love from your sister in Christ,

  35. Sharon Meekins says:

    Tanya –

    Thank you for sharing your story. I praise God that He is using You to glorify His name by helping these children. May God continue to bless you richly in all you do.

  36. Sarah says:

    Tanya, what an amazing message you have the privledge to tell! Thank you for being willing to tell your story. How great God is that He would choose to show His love to you in that way! Beautiful! God bless you in your journey!

  37. Rob says:


    You have a powerful story that has the unique ability to stir the hearts of those who hear it. What a great opportunity you now have to use your story to impact those around you.

  38. Leigh Ellen says:

    Your story is amazing. I praise God that you are able to serve Christ by loving kids!

  39. Claire says:

    Tanya – I love how God has brought your story full circle – it’s inspiring to think of the ripple effect that one shoe box has had first in your life, and now in the lives of so many other kids around the world.
    And to Tanya’s family – thank you so much for modeling the miracle of adoption to so many of us in America. I hope many who read this will be encouraged to follow your example!

  40. Mary says:

    Tanya, What a blessing you are. I’ve worked with OCC for 10 years. Our home get very busy during collection week. Last year we collected 1132 boxes and are praying for 3000 this year. Your story is so encouraging. I pray many blessings for you and your family members. Thank you for all the hard work you are doing for OCC and children who need to be loved by us and the Lord.

  41. Barb Newman says:

    Wow Tanya, What a great inspiration you are to so many!
    You have shared the grace and love of Christ full circle and
    that is the most important thing you can do with your life.
    I am so happy you have a loving family now.
    You rock girl!!!!

  42. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the great information about Operation Christmas Child! I went on SamaritansPurse.org and learned that Operation Christmas Child is collecting shoe boxes in every state and even has a collection site right down the road from my house. I’m going to share your story with my students and encourage them to pack a shoe box this year. What an easy way to make a difference around the world.

  43. Kelly says:

    By working with Operation Christmas Child, you’re passing on the gift that ignited hope in your own life. Kids around the world will experience the love of God admist the most dark circumstances. Thanks for sharing the contagious light of love!

  44. Glynn says:


    A touching story to say the least. You give a great interview!

  45. Lynne says:


    I got tears in my eyes listening to your interview. It is stories like yours and others that I have seen recently which lead me to want to get involved. I am going to become the OCC Project Leader at my church. It is my prayer that your interview will lead others to become involved. We in America have so much we can share with children around the world.

  46. Julie says:

    We loved watching the interview – you were, as always, a light for Jesus’ love. Denis & Zoya also received shoeboxes when they were in a Russian orphanage. I pray that hearts will be touched to get involved and make a difference in others’ lives – you’ve shown that even something so little as a shoebox can make a huge difference! God Bless You! Denis & Zoya’s mom

  47. annette Sova-Peterson says:

    What an encouragement you are to all of us. As we fill out shoeboxes we will remember how one simple gift like a shoebox showed you God’s love and gave you hope. It’s exciting to know God knows each chils name. Keep up the good work. Annette

  48. Ann Struve says:

    Awesome! I help collect boxes and I’m so excited to read how God is working in your life. Thanks you for sharing your story and all the glory goes to Him for using you to grow the kingdom.

  49. Marcia U Anderson says:

    It is a miracle how God orchatrates the way we learn about Him. Teh shoe boxes are a great way to show the love of God.

    You have a wonderful testimony Tanya. You were seperated from your brother and sister and reunited with them again. How AWESOME OUR GOD IS.

  50. Kathy Schriefer says:

    Thanks for reporting this remarkable story that shows how much one simple gift can mean to a needy child. I can’t touch every needy child, but I can touch at least one with just a simple gift through Operation Christmas Child. I wish more could hear how an act of kindness can ripple out to touch so many.

  51. Bill Hartley says:

    Hi Tanya,
    I was blessed to meet you and hear your story at the Connect Conference in Texas. You are proof that shoeboxes “GOSPEL OPPORTUNITIES” give hope and change lives. I have seen many times that a heart given to Jesus will in turn touch and change hundreds or thousands of lives. I pray the the Living Word continues to flow from your works. God Bless you and your family. Bill

  52. Kathy S, says:

    As a volunteer for Operation Christmas Child for the past 10 years, I feel blessed to have had our paths cross. My daughter is 13 and sent hundreds of boxes over the past 6 years. This year she received a letter from an Albanian teen and they have developed a lasting friendship. May God Bless You~!~

  53. Rob Browne says:


    So glad to see you bless the kids in Ecuador the way you blessed our kids in Russia last year. They are waiting for your return…so are we!


  54. CG says:

    As you give so much of yourself, it’s clear that it’s out of a great sense of compassion and desire to see people’s lives impacted by the One who created them and loves them more than we can even begin to understand. May God continue to work through you (and all of us) to carry His message of hope in Christ. My prayers are with you as well as the work of Operation Christmas Child.

  55. bndc says:


    I just learned of your story and the Operation Christmas Child / Samaritan’s Purse organizations. Your organizations give hope and inspiration and you definitely have changed many lives…I know that your acts of kindness are making a difference and goodness will flow from your works. You are a remarkable young lady and are a wonderful mentor for the young people in today’s society. Many hearts will be touched as a result of your willingness to give back – you could have given up, but, you chose not to – you only made your life better! You have ignited hope in the lives of children who sometimes may forget that their lives can and will change for the better…..I hope that many are encouraged by your fine example and that your organization continues to grow so that it includes the children in the United States that need our help as well (it would be wonderful if your organization could establish five central collection points (and a coordinator) within each state (north / south / east / west / central)! I wish you and your family many blessings and continued success!

  56. Scott says:

    Awesome story CNN! Keep the good news coming.

  57. tammy says:

    We are so proud of how you overcome your hardships and let God use them for his good. You are a great inspiration to other teens. Many of us adults think that kids are just playing games on their computers or other things, but wow you are doing great things. You inspire Adults and kids to go past their troubles and give and try to help others. Operation Christmas Child is a great way to send a simple shoe box, but make a great impact and difference in a child’s life. The box came full circle. I will pray for you and keep God next to you and lean on him.

  58. Brian & Tracy says:

    We have participated in Operation Christmas Child, an effort of the relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse, and were impressed with Tanya’s story, a shoe box recipient who is now giving shoe boxes! We hope this story inspires more people to become a part of Operation Christmas Child; visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/occ for more information.

  59. Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing how much the letter meant to you. I pack boxes every year but don’t always include a note. You never know who you might touch by giving a little more of yourself. That’s really what this is all about–reaching out to someone across the world and trusting God to make the connection.

  60. karen says:

    Operation Christmas child is one of the coolest ways I know to give your love to some kids who has none.

  61. davie says:

    That is really great to hear your story. Keep doing what you are doing, it is a joy that will never stop giving.

  62. Ruth says:

    Tatiana – I am so proud of you. You are an awesome young lady with so much love to give even after all you’ve gone through in your life. I love you and am so happy to have been able to have been a part of your life. You continue to shine in the lives of all you encounter. Love you much, Mrs. Moron (to you only)

  63. Diane Barker says:


    I have been very touched by your story. My children and I have packed shoeboxes for years, but your story is the first time I got to hear from the child receiving the box.

    Do you come speak to churches or women’s ministries? We live 30 miles east of St. Louis and would love to have you come and speak to our church body.

    Diane Barker

  64. Heather says:

    Tanya, Thank you so much for sharing your story, we will be passing it around here on the island of Hawaii to encourage others to pack more boxes! Every box truely does represent a child and you give life to that message. I encourage everyone to get involved because it will change you and you will be blessed.

  65. Adrienne says:

    One word–FANTASTIC!!!

  66. Mom in Texas says:

    Operation Christmas Child is something my son and I look forward to every year. When I saw your story I immediately emailed it to his Christian School that spearheads our efforts. These children, grade K-6 will be very excited to see the personal impact these gifts can make. I can assure you the number of boxes going out this year will increase with this encouraging word! Bless you!

  67. Thomas says:

    I’ve adopted two children and hope that they will give to the world as you have! I am so grateful that their mothers did not abort…

  68. Christy says:

    I can’t imagine the life that you grew up in.. or imagine taking care of a newborn at 8 years of age..We have so much here. You inspire me to do even more with Operation Christmas Child. We get a group together every year to pack some shoeboxes.. and you make me realize how much those shoeboxes really mean to children who don’t have a thing in other countries. Thanks for everything you do.. What you are doing makes a huge impact for the Kingdom of God.

  69. Audrey F. says:

    So happy to hear about this wonderful opportunity to share your moving story. You are such an inspiration to others your age and to parents, like us, to help our kids do the same. You rock, Julian!!

  70. Crystal C. says:

    Do you live in California and are planning to vote NO on Proposition 8?. Still think homosexuality is Not a sin, huh?. Or is it that you don’t care?. Homosexuals in general, will argue that homosexuality is not a sin, because it is not listed as a sin in the Ten Commandments. But.. here’s what they don’t know, there are many scriptures in the bible which talk about homosexuality & prove that it IS indeed one of the most shameful & dishonorable acts committed against God. Here is where you can find these scriptures in your bible.. Genesis chapter 19 verse 4-29 (Story of Lot & the two angels in the city of Gomorrah)/ Leviticus chapter 20 verse 13/ Genesis chapter 18 verse 20/ Isaiah chapter 3 verse 9/ Romans chapter 1 verse 27. After you have read for yourself.. Remember to vote YES on Proposition 8, don’t let them teach our children that this despicable act of great sin is Okay!!.

  71. Uche & Ezi says:

    To show how important this 2008 election is, my 4 year old brother in kingergarten from Michigan called my mom and said:
    ” Mom! Mom! Could you please vote for Obama for me?” She simply responded:
    ” Why?”
    ” I like him, he’s a good man and a good leader.” Sometimes God speaks to the mind of children!

  72. Crystal C. says:

    Are you confused, or wondering what Joe Biden Really meant about Barack Obama potentially being “tested” There is a simple explanation for your worries.. Ever since America has been America, every elected president in history has been “tested”. When John F. Kennedy was in office, his test came in the form of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost set off a nuclear war, but in the end, did not. Another example.. when George Bush was elected. very soon after Alkaida operatives, under Osama Bin Laden’s direction, flew a plan into the world trade center buildings. None of these things are Intentionally committed against the U.S.A, or the presidency for that matter, by an inside culprit, they simply happen, naturally, due to the inevitable dis-agreements, threats, economic differences, hatred, etc.. issues that every country suffers from around the World!. Every president in history, in every country has been un-intentionally “tested” by the powers from another country.. If this did not occur, obviously, there would literally be world peace, people!. This is simply what Joe Biden was conveying when he made his statement, and obviously alot of people with little or no “common political sense” understand what the Hell he meant, Omg!. Also, what Joe Biden meant when he said “It’s not going to be apparent initially; it’s not going to be apparent that we’re right.” obviously, has a similar meaning; not every president in history was praised for his decision making, but eventually.. we got through it, and it was later apparent that it indeed, Was the correct thing to do!, (Just like Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves!). If after reading this, you still do not understand, or get the point, as simple as I have put it for you; then perhaps you should not be voting in the first place. Thank you for your time… and good luck!.

  73. Tim Staggenborg says:

    God bless you for what you are doing, Tanya. Like you we also live in St. Louis. Our children are adopted from Kazakhstan, so we know well the conditions in the Soviet block countries. We have packed shoeboxes with our children for several years now. Since you said that you enjoyed the letter and photo, we will be sure to include them in all of our shoeboxes from now on. Rest assured that you are doing God’s work. We will keep you and everyone involved with OCC in our prayers this year. Thanks, Tanya!

  74. Tracy H. says:

    Spasibo for sharing your story and allowing God to use you in such an incredible way! My children are adopted from Kazakhstan and are excited about our new tradition of providing shoeboxes for OCC. May God continue to bless you and OCC!

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