Are you packing a shoe box this year for Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child? This is one of our yearly traditions and always a highlight for our family as we enter the Christmas Season. Every Christmas, our pastor always challenges us to give our biggest gift to Jesus. After all, it is HIS birthday. And preparing shoe boxes for children is one of the ways that we have chosen to give to Him. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
If you aren’t too familiar with Operation Christmas Child (OCC), it is a fantastic ministry that takes the Gospel and the love of Christ to children and their families all over the globe. Basically, you pack a shoe box with special gifts for a child in need, and Samaritan’s Purse will send it for you. Along with the gifts you send, Samaritan’s Purse has Christian tracts printed in a ton of different languages, and volunteers tuck one of these into each box, according to its destination, so the child can read the good news of Jesus in his or her own language. A Gospel presentation is also given before the shoe boxes are distributed to the children, so that they and their families can hear about God and His love for them and know that He is the One who inspired their gifts. God has used Operation Christmas Child to change countless lives, using people who will spend a little time and money filling a simple box with love and light. I love being a part of that, and I love giving my son another opportunity to give to others at Christmas!
So, what are the best things to put into a shoe box? I have learned some different tips over the years that have helped us to pack really great shoe boxes, and I wanted to share them with you. Some of these have come from missionaries that have worked directly with children in areas where the shoe boxes are sent. Others come from friends who have spent time as volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse, sorting and preparing packages to be sent. I love that these folks could share, from firsthand experience, what makes a great shoe box gift, and what needs to be left on the store shelves when you’re shopping. Many thanks especially to Shiloh, Shannon, Jennifer, Fernando, and my brother-in-law Kurt! They were a great help! I hope this post helps you as you consider filling a shoe box this year!
Make the Box Part of Your Gift
First things first, you need to choose a box. Any shoe box will do, really, and you can even use the larger, boot-sized boxes so you have room to put more things in. You can actually get boxes from Samaritan’s Purse that are ready to go. But to make the gift even more special, get a plastic shoe box that can be used over and over again–Rubbermaid or Sterilite containers work great because they are pretty sturdy and have snap-on lids. You can get the larger, boot-sized plastic boxes too, if you like. If you can get an airtight box, that can be one of the most precious gifts you send. Containers that are water-tight, insect- and rodent-resistant are extremely hard to come by in many places, and of significant value for keeping food and other valuables safe and dry when you live in a lean-to, a cardboard box or a mud hut. You can decorate the box, or just leave it plain. Some people go all out and wrap their boxes in Christmas paper, and that adds a festive touch. Just be sure to wrap the lid separately because the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have to be able to check the contents and put the tracts into the boxes before they are sent. Remember that these boxes are going to be moved around quite a bit before and after they are shipped, so paper can be easily torn. Something we’ve done before is to line the inside of a clear plastic box with wrapping paper so that it shows through, rather than wrap the outside. Even better, you could lay a cute reusable bag, colorful t-shirt, or fun colored drawing paper in a clear box and use that as a functional box decoration.
Choose Great Gift Items for Your Box
Once you’ve got your box, it’s time to put some wonderful things in it, and pack it tight! You’ll need to choose the gender and age range of the child(ren) you will be buying for and get some great gifts that a child that age will love. Because you are sending a box to children who have little to nothing, there are many important items you could include that these children could really use and benefit from. Remember that these kids will also usually share their gifts with siblings and other family members, and sometimes even friends, so keep this in mind when shopping. Some great places to shop are Dollar Tree and other dollar stores, WalMart, Hobby Lobby, Target (their bargain aisles have some great stuff!), Big Lots, and clearance sections at other stores. Even garage sales can be good places to find great, new items! Here are some suggestions for things to include:
- Basic hygiene Items – bar soap with a plastic covered dish (many don’t have anywhere to put their soap except on the ground–also, Ivory soap floats, which is helpful when you’re bathing in the river), toothpaste and toothbrush with a plastic cover or holder (again, no place to put their clean toothbrush), comb or brush, washcloth, etc. Reusable feminine hygiene products are also like gold for older girls who often miss school because they don’t have anything to use during their cycle.
- Clothing items – clothing is appreciated, whether shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, socks, underwear, or even shoes and flip flops. Avoid winter wear, as it is bulky, and because your box could end up in a very warm climate where those things would be useless. And avoid t-shirts and clothing with graphics on them. Choose solids, stripes, or nice prints that anyone might enjoy. Roll clothing items tightly, or lay them flat in the bottom of the box to save on space.
- School supplies – crayons, pencils with sharpeners, pens and markers, glue sticks, notebooks, paper, pads, erasers, rulers, scissors, dry watercolor paints, solar calculators, etc. I like to hit the back-to-school sales every year and stock up for our boxes, because you can find some amazing deals.
- Dishes – plastic plate, bowl, cup, and/or utensils. Sometimes you can find these packaged together. A water bottle would also be great, and there are some places where you can buy collapsible ones that would fit nicely in your boxes.
- Flashlight with extra batteries is appreciated since most of these kids don’t have electricity. Even better would be a special flashlight that doesn’t require any batteries–they do make these, but they are harder to find, and more expensive.
- Accessories like hats, scarves, hair ties and bows, headbands, costume jewelry, sunglasses, purses, etc. are great items for girls. Boys would enjoy things like hats, sunglasses, small backpacks, bandanas, watches, coin purses, and handkerchiefs. Reusable bags are great for everyone, as are umbrellas!
- Candy is OK, but be sure you don’t send chocolate, and the expiration date must be at least May of next year. Candy is a bit of an “iffy” item, as some countries are starting to disallow it in customs.
- Toys – the kids receiving boxes don’t usually have any toys, so what you send will be very special. Try to choose a nice “wow” toy, and then if you have room, you can put in a few smaller things also. Remember, anything that runs on batteries needs to have those included (loose batteries must have their ends covered), and once they are spent, that’s probably it. Here are some ideas for toys:
- Kids LOVE soccer balls, and you can pack either a smaller inflated ball, or you can let the air out of a regular sized ball, and include a compact hand pump–if you do this, it’s good to include extra needles for the pump, as they break easily. Really, any balls are great, and other sports-related toys like jump ropes, hacky sacks, frisbees, etc, and they bring kids together to play, so it’s like getting one gift for many to enjoy.
- Toy cars, trucks, airplanes, etc. are always a hit, and the ones with bigger wheels are preferred, because they roll best on dirt. A car playmat would be a fun addition!
- Dolls are always loved, and a bald baby with medium brown skin is usually a good choice for most cultures.
- Stuffed animals are sweet, but be careful about the animal you choose–in other cultures certain animals are considered sacred, some are considered unclean, and some are considered to be affiliated in some way with the spirit world. I would say it would be pretty safe to send a doggie (although I read that Muslims consider dogs unclean), or a teddy bear, but just be aware of this issue and certainly don’t send any scary or menacing-looking critters that might frighten a little child. A small blanket or pillow might be a great substitute “cuddle” item!
- Small tools, work gloves, and/or fishing supplies for older kids are great because they are very handy and useful.
- Small sewing kits and/or crafting kits or supplies are great and much needed items. Safety pins can help repair clothing, and are very handy for many things. Paper clips and clothespins are also welcome because they are great for hanging items.
- Small musical instruments are always fun and loved by all age groups. Harmonicas, recorders, tambourines, kazoos, shakers, etc. bring the joy of music to everyone.
Make Your Box Personal
A really wonderful thing to do is to personalize your box. You can do this by including a note or letter to the child who will receive it, and even a picture of yourself and/or your family. If you like, you can include your contact information–name and address. Some people have actually received mail from their box recipients! If you have a child, have him/her color or draw special pictures or make a hand-crafted gift to put in the box. My little man loves origami, so he will include an origami creation in each of our boxes. One missionary friend suggested taking a picture of your child with one of the things in the box–a stuffed animal or other toy–and putting that in along with the item in the box. It’s just another way of connecting with the child who will receive it.
What NOT to Include in Your Box
- Liquid items of any kind are prohibited when shipping these boxes. This includes not only hygiene items like shampoos, lotions, and body washes, but also art supplies like liquid glue or paint, and also even toys that might have liquid, like snow globes and glow sticks. Lip gloss is also liquid, so not a good idea.
- War-related or military-type items are also not something you want to put into your box, including toy guns, knives and swords, or army men. G.I. Joe and military/tactical gear are fun for kids here, but not appropriate for kids in war-torn countries. Even camouflage items are discouraged.
- Money is something you should never send. If you send anything of significant value, you run the risk that it will be taken by an adult (whether in customs, or en route to its destination) either for personal use, or to sell, before the child ever even sees it. Unfortunately, that is the reality in some of these places. Don’t let that stop you from sending nice things, but just keep this in mind when you are purchasing potentially valuable items. Removing items from their packaging can often keep adults from trying to resell the items, and it also saves space in your box. Candy is actually one of those things that often gets taken!
- Anything fragile, or made out of glass or ceramic is discouraged, as those things are easily broken when shipping overseas.
- Food is also not allowed, as well as chocolate and anything that could melt in the cargo belly of a plane, or traveling on the back of a camel through the desert. Don’t send anything perishable.
- Medications and vitamins are not allowed.
- Aerosol cans are prohibited as well – and I would say that includes silly string.
- Anything that requires them to read instructions (which will be in English) to figure out how to use is not a good idea.
- Most kids don’t typically know how to play American games, don’t know what to do with 3D stuff, Play Doh and silly putty (some try to eat it!), yo yos, stickers or temporary tatoos, and don’t have players for CDs or tapes. There are many other things that are much better choices than these. Also, I have heard that regular playing cards are not a good idea, and are often confiscated in customs.
- Please don’t include used items, or broken or damaged items.
Fill Up the Box
My friend Jennifer who volunteered at the collection center said that one issue they had was that many people sent boxes that only had a very few items in them. These boxes were a sad comparison to so many others that were bulging with gifts. If you can’t afford to fill a box up on your own, then ask around to see if you can find some help–go together with another friend or family and really fill that thing up! Or make it a group effort: have everyone in your small group or Sunday School class bring an item for a box. Remember, this is the only gift that some of these kids have ever received, so make it awesome for them!
Get Your Box to OCC
You will need to affix a label to your box, indicating which gender and age range it is for, and include postage (it’s $7.00 for each box), which you can put inside the box with the contents. You can get these from the brochures Samaritan’s Purse issues (available in many churches), and also online. Or, even better, you can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website and pay for the shipping costs online. The beauty of doing it this way is that you will print the label for your box, and it will have a tracking number that you can link to your email. Once your box has a designated destination, Samaritan’s Purse will email you and let you know where it is going! We love getting those emails! The next step is to deliver your box to a collection center. Many churches collect boxes and have someone take them to a more central collection place. If you need to find a collection center, you can go to the Samaritan’s Purse website and search for one near you. Collection usually runs the 3rd week in November each year. This year (2016), it starts November 14th and goes through the 21st.
Pray Over Your Box
Even though you have no idea where your box will end up, you can start praying now for the child who will receive it, that if he or she does not know Jesus, that he or she will come to know Him, possibly as a result of receiving your box. One of the OCC distribution workers overseas asked that you pray even for the customs and other officials, that they would allow all boxes to get through easily and make it into the hands of the children, and also that they would be open to the Gospel and impacted by the love of God that is shown in the sending of these boxes. And pray for all the families who receive boxes, and their communities as well, that the Good News that is shared will have a huge impact for the Kingdom in those areas. If you get a tracking number for your box, you can pray even more specifically for the region where your box goes, and that is pretty cool!
I wanted to share a video from Samaritan’s Purse. I love the expressions of joy on these children’s faces! These sweet kids are the reason Christ came that very first Christmas–He was born, lived, and died for THEM. Let’s make sure they know that! I hope you’ll celebrate Jesus’ birth with me this year by giving Him your biggest gift. OCC is a great way to do that!