Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

Welcome to the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series! Click here to check out all the posts in the series.

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So far in the 31 Days of Global Missions with Kids series, we’ve set a foundation, and we’ve covered some basic ways to begin developing a love for God’s whole world within our children. For the remainder of the series, we’ll be talking about several different ideas for action steps for global missions you can take with the children and teenagers in your life.

As you read these posts in the days to come, please do not try to tackle all these ideas! Instead, prayerfully consider which one or two areas of global missions you are being called to. Click here for a free printable to guide you through this process.

Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child

One of the easiest, simplest, most hands-on ways you can be involved in Global Missions with Kids is putting together Operation Christmas Child boxes… and now is the perfect time to do it, since shoebox collection week happens in mid-November!!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, demonstrates God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, shares the Good News of Jesus Christ. They collect and send simple shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items to children affected by war, poverty, disaster, famine, and disease. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 124 million children in more than 150 countries and territories.

One thing I love about Operation Christmas Child is that many children who receive boxes participate in a 12 week discipleship course through a local church called The Greatest Journey. So, they’re not just receiving a lovely gift in a box but are also receiving the gift of a closer walk with Jesus!

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

Why pack a shoe box?

I have been involved in Operation Christmas Child for many years, packing my first box when I was a high school student. Since then, I have packed dozens of shoeboxes, hosted a collection at our church, and volunteered at the OCC processing center. Currently, my family works for an organization that helps fly the boxes to their destinations around the world, so we have met coworkers who have been involved in the distribution of boxes firsthand.

In all my interactions with Operation Christmas Child, they have been top-notch, doing valuable ministry and coordinating the distribution of shoeboxes in a way that benefits and encourages everyone involved.

I have volunteered twice at a OCC box processing center and I want to make sure you know that: the items you pack in your box will stay in your box (as long as they meet the rules.)

Before I volunteered, I wasn’t sure about this. As I painstakingly selected the perfect items to place in my shoebox, I wondered if at the processing center, they just got dumped into a pile or if boxes with more items were shared with boxes with less items. This is not the case!

The packing center emphasizes maintaining “the integrity of the box.”

Your box is opened and inspected for any items not permitted (like chocolate, army figurines, etc.) Those items are removed, along with any money placed in the box as a donation to Samaritan’s Purse. Then the box is sealed up securely with tape, placed on a wooden pallet, and shipped overseas.

So, if you selected a Barbie doll with a matching tee shirt for the girl who opens it… she’ll receive that gift. As you pray and pack, your box is being prepared for a child somewhere around the world who will open it soon!

How to Pack an Operation Christmas Child Box

how to pack a shoebox for OCC

1. Choose a gender and age range for your box(es). This year, we chose to do four boxes, each corresponding to the age/gender of a member of our family. So, my husband put together a box for a 10-14 year old boy, I did one for a 10-14 year old girl, and then our two young daughters did two boxes for 2-4 year old girls.

2. Get a box. A cardboard shoebox works! Your local Chick Fil A or Family Christian Stores may have some special red and green OCC boxes. My personal favorite is the plastic shoeboxes made by Sterilite that are available for about $1 at Target or Wal Mart. This way the child can use the plastic box for awhile.

3. Choose one big toy.

Something new this year is that Operation Christmas Child is emphasizing packing a bigger, fun gift in each box: a beautiful doll, plush stuffed animal, deflated soccer ball + pump, etc.

I am speculating that perhaps too many of us were being practical “fuddy-duddies” in our gift-giving, including lots of little helpful things without including a fun toy… the “Grandma gives us underwear every year for Christmas” syndrome.

4. Add in smaller toys, school supplies, and hygiene items.

Here’s a guide to what kind of items to pack.

5. Include a personal note and family photo.

You can just write a normal letter or card. I like this printable coloring page as a guide for what to say.

Occasionally you will hear back from the person who receives your box, if you include your address.

Typically, we haven’t heard anything, but one year we did, and we’ve actually formed a nice friendship with a young man in the Philippines, and have been able to help him with his education and correspond over the years.

6. Donate $7 for box to cover shipping.

Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box.

In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.

7. Drop off your box. Your church may collect OCC boxes. If not, click here to find a drop-off location near you.

how to pack four operation Christmas child boxes for under 50 dollars

Packing an Operation Christmas Child Box on a Budget

Packing shoe boxes can be expensive. There have been years when I had the money to easily pack a dozen boxes, filling them with lovely things.

This year, we didn’t set aside that kind of money in our budget, so I aimed to pack four boxes for about $50 (not including the $7 per box donation or a few items I purchased earlier this summer).

You can see the contents of our four boxes in the photo above… I think I did pretty well for $12.50 a box!

Here are some tips for being able to afford to donate:

look at what you already have for OCC boxes

  • Look around your home for any new items you can include in a box. Do you have a stash of spare toothbrushes or a box of markers leftover from school supply shopping? These would all be excellent items to include… just make sure they are new. The photo above shows a bunch of stuff I found just by looking around our house… extra toiletry items, stickers and postcards, even a 3T shirt with tags still attached that my daughter never wore!
  • Check consignment shops or thrift shops for new items. Please do not include used items! But, if you find a brand-new item, tags still attached, at one of these shops? Go for it!
  • Ask for donations. Would your dentist be willing to donate some toothbrushes? Would a friend from church like to offer some art supplies? Perhaps a friend doesn’t have time to shop for items, but would be happy to provide $10 for the cause. At the very least, shoe stores are usually happy to give a spare shoebox or two so you don’t have to purchase a plastic box.
  • If you want to do multiple boxes, consider dividing up packages in half. For example, tubes of toothpaste may be cheaper if bought in a pack of two, or a large box of crayons can be divided into two smaller ones.
  • Consider making items for your OCC box. Operation Christmas Child has a well-maintained Pinterest account with lots of ideas for crafts to include in your box.
  • As time permits, purchase items ahead of time. I bought school supplies in August when they were on sale and set them aside for our shoeboxes. Not only were the items cheaper, but I was able to split up the cost over a few months. (I did not include these school supplies in the $50 total, since I had purchased them two months ago).
  • Devote a chunk of money to one “big” gift. As I mentioned above, this year OCC is encouraging packers to include a bigger gift like a stuffed animal, soccer ball and pump, or a beautiful doll. I chose to spend $7ish each on a stuffed animal for each of our boxes, then supplementing with more economical items for everything else. Even if you purchase all your other items at the dollar store, you may want to purchase a nicer “big” gift for each box.

Here are some additional ideas for OCC boxes on a budget.

photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse

How to Involve Your Children and Make It Meaningful

  • Talk about Operation Christmas Child before you begin shopping or packing boxes. Explain that you’ll be putting boxes together to send around the world. Pull out a globe or world map and point out some possible places. You could get out a little toy airplane or a wooden block (to symbolize a shoebox) and “fly” it from your home to another continent.
  • View videos or read stories on the Operation Christmas Child web site. This morning my little girl snuggled up with me while we watched this “God Made Me Walk” video about an impressive young lady who donated many shoeboxes. Here’s a lengthier video overview of Operation Christmas Child, and here’s a whole channel of videos so you can choose one that you want to watch.
  • Take your child shopping with you. As you select items, talk about how you’re putting them in a shoebox to send to other kids.
  • Invite your child to purchase an item for the shoeboxes with his own money. My daughter is still at the innocent age where she was thrilled to take some of her allowance money to buy a puzzle at Target’s Dollar Spot. I expect in a few years she might not be quite so eager, once she understands money better! 🙂 In any case, offer your child the chance to purchase something. Alternatively, you could give your child a designated sum of money (perhaps $5 or $10?) and have them select and purchase an item for the box using that money.
  • Print out this coloring page and have your child color it to include in a box. It’s so cute and has a place to share info about your child, even drawing a picture of where you live and what your home looks like.
  • Include your child in packing the items into the box and dropping off at a drop-off site. Collection week is November 16 – 23, 2015.
  • Find out where your box goes. Operation Christmas Child asks that you donate $7 to help cover the costs of getting your box into the hands of its recipient. If you make this donation online, you can “follow your box” by printing out a label with a special scanner code on it and sticking it to your box. In a couple months, you’ll get an email letting you know where your box was sent! Pretty cool! Last year, we learned that ours went to Mexico, a place near and dear to our hearts.
  • Consider hosting (or attending) an Operation Christmas Child packing party. This is a fun, memorable way to pack boxes. Each person brings different items to pack (say, toothbrushes) and then together, you set up an assembly line and fill boxes. It’s also a chance to get out Christmas decor, movies, and treats and have a fun time together. Here are all sorts of resources from the OCC web site, and also  some ideas from Oh Amanda for a packing party.
  • Take your older children/teenagers to volunteer at an OCC processing center. Volunteer slots fill up fast, so I’m sure they’re already full this year, but mark it on your calendar for the future! I’ve gone to the Southern California center a few times, and it’s always a memorable experience and a fun way to serve.

This Global Missions with Kids series is full of thoughts and practical ideas for serving Christ alongside your children and teenagers.

**Have you ever packed an Operation Christmas Child box? What tips do you have? Leave a comment below.

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