Growing up, we always packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. It was a simple way to help teach us about giving to others who needed things more than ourselves. The ages and gender generally correlated to the child(ren) packing the box. We all got to help and choose things to include.
I filled my own box when I was on my own, and my husband and I did after we married. Especially now that we have children of our own, this is something I want to make part of our family tradition - even though our children are too young at this point to remember.
What is Operation Christmas Child (OCC)? OCC is an outreach of Samaritan's Purse whose aim is to provide humanitarian aid to those in need while sharing Jesus with them. OCC specifically shares the gospel with children alongside giving them a box full of goodies (which is where you come in!). Many of these children have never been given a gift before. All are impoverished. OCC needs people to fill boxes to send to these children, they need volunteers to collect boxes, and volunteers to distribute them. We can make a real difference world wide! To read more about OCC, go here.
So, here are 12 tips to help you fill your own box(es) for OCC:
1. Use a standard shoebox size container. I know, you're feeling generous and want to pack out that box that held your new boots. That's great! Instead of filling one large box, fill two regular sized boxes. OCC wants the boxes to be as equitable as possible, and may actually redistribute from your boot box into other boxes to ensure this.
You can order shoeboxes like this (below) in bulk from OCC here. You can also find these at some stores around the country, Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby are two I know commonly have them available.
2. If possible, use plastic shoeboxes. You can find them at Walmart, Target, and the Dollar Tree. 6 Qt is the standard size, and they usually don't cost more than a dollar. You can absolutely use regular cardboard shoeboxes, but a missionary sharing about OCC said that the plastic boxes are great because they are more durable than cardboard and don't attract insects and rodents.
These boxes are going to children who have probably never been given a gift before, and may never receive another present. Ever. They don't have their own room or drawer to store things in, so the plastic shoeboxes gives them somewhere they can keep their treasured possessions - the very ones you are sending them!
3. Include something fun! A ball or jump rope, for example. A doll that is fairly neutral in skin tone & who doesn't have hair that will get all gross and matted (remember, they might live in a mud hut! definitely not in a middle class neighborhood). OCC encourages stuffed animals, but I've heard mixed reports about this from missionaries on the ground: sometimes animals have very significant meanings in particular cultures. You don't know where your box is going & what significance that animal might have at its destination.
I read one story about a boy who started screaming when he opened his box because it contained a stuffed owl. Owls were omens of evil where he lived. Not exactly the message we want to send! But I've also read stories about children who were beyond thrilled to get a stuffed animal in their box. So, prayerfully consider what you include. Personally, I try to find something else fun & not risk the animal.
Check around seasonal changes for sale items at Walmart and Target - the past couple years I have found jumpropes for $0.25 or $.50 when summer items go on clearance! Keep your eyes open & strike when the iron is hot!
4. School supplies are awesome. Paper, pens, highlighters, pencils, manual pencil sharpeners, crayons, markers, colored pencils, solar calculators (solar, not battery operated one), extra erasers, etc. These are practical gifts & also fun as they can draw & color as well as use it for learning. I've also heard missionaries state that whatever we send over from the states lasts much longer than what the children are able to acquire in their country.
I always try to include a pencil pouch or pencil case to hold these supplies in addition to the shoebox. That way, they can still keep these things together & safe, but gives them a little extra storage room inside the shoebox should they want that space for something else.
I have found that labor day weekend is a fantastic time to go to Walmart and get these supplies for next to nothing. Saving money & still being able to send good quality items is a win-win!
5. Include personal hygiene items. Toothbrushes (with travel cap, or travel toothbrushes), toothpaste that expires at least 6 months after the collection date (if you live in the US, Canada doesn't allow it at all) in a ziplock bag (that way, if it leaks its contained), soap, portable soap dishes if you can find them (n.b. I have a really hard time finding these! Any ideas? This year my bars of soap were skinny which worked out great because all I could find were denture cleaner containers!), washclothes, etc. These are items that most of the kids don't have easy access to.
The reason I mention a travel cap or travel toothbrushes and a travel soap container is because these children don't have bathrooms. They don't have a room. There is no place they can safely put a toothbrush or bar of soap down and reasonably expect it to be in the same place or clean when they return. These help preserve things longer.
6. Dinnerware is special. This is a new one for me that I heard mentioned this past year. A lot of children don't have their own cup or bowl or silverware! They eat with their hands or they share a communal cup or ladle. When I read that it reminded me of Little House on the Prairie when Mary & Laura were so excited to each get their own tin cup for Christmas! Melamine bowls should be durable. Water bottles help keep the water clean (at least as clean as it gets) and they can have more at a time. Get creative when packing your shoeboxes with these items! Don't just put a water bottle in there, put a jump rope or pencils or cloth inside so it doesn't take up valuable space with that empty interior!
7. Hair things are useful, too. I try to find a travel sized brush (or a collapsible one) & comb to include. For girls I like to include ponytail holders and/or headbands. I know not every hair type can use a brush or a comb, but many can, and its not something easy to just get in these countries.
All these things above are great, but there are also some things you should NOT do.
8. No batteries. If you need batteries for a particular item, don't include it - even if you include spares. Eventually, they will run out & the child won't be able to use your gift to them. This is not a requirement from OCC, just something I noticed multiple missionaries mention.
9. Do not include military themed items (or items like Disney Princesses). War is bad - some of these children have lived through it. We want to create positive memories, not bring up bad ones. Also, be very careful if you get balls or anything with pictures printed on them. I mentioned animals having significant meaning in some cultures, but you have to be careful of human pictures too. Disney princesses? Out. Not only is it for a specific race, but you very well could be sending images of what some cultures would consider immodest women because their skin is showing, or they aren't wearing a hijab, etc. Just play it safe.
10. Do not include anything liquid (exception of toothpaste, if you live in the US) or anything breakable (exception of a folding compact mirror) or anything sharp or hazardous. If you include these items OCC will remove them from your shoebox before distribution & donate them to a charity.
11. You can include hard candy (suckers, peppermints, cinnamon rounds, etc), but no chocolate, no gummies, no gum - nothing that is not hard cardy - all these things can melt and cause a mess. We don't want that!
12. If a toy/game you want to include needs instructions, don't include it. And don't assume a child knows how to use toys that are standard here (jacks, yo-yos, etc). The missionary workers to children ratio is small, and explaining these concepts and toys takes a LOT of time. This is not an official OCC rule, but I've read where more than one missionary requested these items not be included in the boxes because the games can be really hard to help the children understand.
OCC does request you include $7 for every shoebox you fill to cover cost of shipping it to the child. This is NOT a requirement. I know there have been many years it was all I could do to fill a shoebox, so don't feel bad if you aren't able to do this! But please consider writing a check to cover shipment if you do have the wiggle room in your budget.
Want to fill a shoebox but are unable to get out and do the shopping for it? You can still fill a shoebox by doing it online! How cool is that? The suggested donation price is $25, which includes shipping. You can find out more about this option here.
One more thing: I read mixed accounts online about whether or not it was acceptable to unpackage new items to put in the shoeboxes. I reached out to OCC for clarification on this. You ARE allowed to unbox items if you choose, as long as they are brand new, unused. I was thrilled to hear this because sometimes packages just take up so much unnecessary space I could be filling with another gift (*cough* ink pens, *cough* highlighters)! This also means you can buy things like pencils or toys in a multipack and split it up between multiple shoeboxes!
Reminder: Don't forget your labels! You can print these if you don't have any on hand.
Collection week 2015 is next week: November 16-23! You can find drop off locations near you by clicking here.
It's a little late for this year, but OCC is one of the things I shop year-round for. Being able to save money on things adds up and helps us be able to give more generously.
What tips do you have for packing shoeboxes? I'd love to hear them! Comment below & remember to share this post with your friends so we can spread the love of Jesus around the world together!