I love to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. In the photo above you get an idea of where I’m at with this year’s boxes. Since the oldest boys are the ones few people want to do, I generally do more of those, but usually do at least one box per age/gender category. I watch clearance racks for suitable clothing, but always ask “Would I have bought this for my kids?” first.
Yesterday, I hit one of my favorite OCC shopping spots, Gabriel Brothers (aka Gabes). The photo above (minus the two bags, the 2 balls and 1 polo shirt was $23.00). Another great one is Old Navy–yes, a fashionable brand name, but with super clearance racks. Target is yet another. Some Wal-Marts are good, but I’ve found their stores near me rarely go below $3.00 for a nice enough shirt. I do not load my boxes with tacky left-over St. Patrick’s Day shirts and the like. I’m giving a GIFT and treat it as such. Dollar Tree is great for a few things like party favors, pencil bags and a few toys. Oriental Trading Company sells bulk toys, water bottles and all kinds of things for super-cheap prices. How about co-oping with a couple of families to buy bulk items?
On Saturday, November 12th I’m hosting a virtual packing party! Come by and post links and photos to your own packing party–vitual or otherwise!
How to pack a shoebox.
Here’s a link to OCC’s month-by-month shopping guide.
Sorting and packing last Christmas
Here are my thoughts on what to pack and even on how to pack.
Remember, each box requires a $7.00 donation for shipping. You can also “pack” a box online. You can pay online for the s/h and have your box tracked, too. Last year our boxes went to Columbia.
- Most of the world has never even seen a washer and drier. Knits get really, really stretched in aggressive hand washing and line drying. If in doubt, go with woven fabrics or high quality polo shirts. T shirts with lots of iron-on type embellishment work well too–all that plastic keeps it from stretching as much, but be mindful of what the graphics could say in other cultures. Right after Easter and right after back-to-school are great times to get woven boys shirts, cotton dresses or good quality polo shirts for a very good price. Remember: Camo is a no-no. Military items are not allowed.
- Sad, but true. Hold off on super-cute or “sexy” styles for girls. They are already in danger of being prostituted just by virtue of poverty. Making them look older isn’t helpful. Same with sending undergarments with suggestive sayings. They maybe perfectly good, strong bikini panties, but the saying may be out of line. Think simple clothing. Pretty, not suggestive. Skip sparkly. Also skip very thin, see-thru fabrics meant to be layered. They won’t be layered and they will be see-thru.
- Your kids old soccer shirts, the $1 St. Paddy’s shirts mentioned above, that XXL charity walk t-shirt do not belong in the box. Sorry, but no. Re-gifting is fine in my opinion if it’s truly never been washed or worn and is appropriate to any culture. Example: Your four year old daughter got 12 sundresses from adoring great-aunts and the like and never wore two of them. Yes, pack the others! I do think charity walk water bottles are fine though–clean, safe water is more important than the advertising.
- Boys usually don’t wear American-style briefs or boxers, but that is changing. Boxers will likely be worn as regular shorts so make sure the fly closes properly and they are dark colors. Same with p.j.s–they will likely be worn just as “clothes.” Still, either is useful and needed.
- Older girls need dark colored underpants to hide shameful stains from menstruation. Cotton is best in spite of the washing problems for knits because with only one or two pairs air flow is a good thing.
- Necklaces and earrings are popular and fun to get. But don’t give an initial or a symbol that could be misunderstood or mean something different in another culture.
- Soccer balls and basketballs, not American footballs, if possible.
- Crappy plastic toys are crappy plastic toys. If it breaks they day the get it it’s no fun. Would you buy that crap for your kid?
- Dolls of color are very good, but kids are conditioned by the media worldwide to select the blondes.
- Containers matter. I try to use plastic shoe boxes so the family has a safe, bug free, water proof container for valuable documents or scarce food.
- A bowl, a cup and a spoon. I always think of Malawi when I pack. A bowl for each person is a luxury. Walmart sells multi-packs for a dollar. Yes, the take up space but I can usually get the shirt into the cup or bowl to save space.
- School supplies!! Composition books, pencils (real wooden ones), sharpeners, colored pencils, pens, geometry tools, solar calculators and pencil bags (the flat ones that go in notebooks pack well and are at Dollar Tree each fall) can help add years to a kid’s schooling. A small English dictionary can be valued too.
- Something beautiful to look at. I had a stash of prints of great works of art done in 8 1/2 x 11 size. I put one of these in the bottom of every box–much nicer than seeing a Khardashian or similar on someone’s wall. A small calendar with lovely photos is another good choice.
- Soap, toothbrushes, wash clothes go in every box. Of the things to skip, the soap is nice, but the others are necessary.
Toothpaste helps too,[starting in 2017 toothpaste and candy are not allowed] but brushing with water saves teeth pretty well. Hand towels are nice, and can be shrink-wrapped in Saran wrap to take up less space. The Pinterest board below has some ideas using washcloths and crocheted soap holders.
- Blankets. Yes, you can get small fleece throws into a shoe box–wrap them tightly in Saran Wrap. Gabriel Brother’s last year had them for $2.00. Contrary to upper-middle class American beliefs, co-sleeping is not “cool,” it’s simply necessary because there is only one blanket. When they can parents buy another for the kids for obvious reasons. Re-gift those never touched receiving blankets in boxes for 2-4 year olds. They ARE appreciated.
- Bags. I grab pretty shopping bags and my Mom also makes bags for some of my boxes. I look for cheap fanny packs, tool belts and those drawstring backpacks, too. I don’t worry too much about what’s on these–they are like water bottles, the utility outweighs the logo. Also, in Africa secondary schools are often boarding schools so kids need things to pack their clothes in. Older kids leaving home may need that too. IKEA’s big blue bags are a good too–they are sturdy enough for carrying just about anything and are prefolded. Sturdy is the word for bags. Homemade or ready-made, sturdy is the word.
- Tools are great for boys–remember, other cultures often have very, very strict gender roles so its best to give these to boys and sewing supplies to girls. A spool each of white and black thread and a package of needles can carry a family a long way. A tool belt and a backpack can get a boy started in a lot of useful ways of earning money ethically. In some countries a small fishing kit is good too.
- Shoes. Here’s another re-giftable. If your kid wore a pair of dress shoes 1 or 2 times for Easter and outgrew them, wash the soles and if like new, pack them. They will be appreciated. Please remember that plastic “dress up shoes” will be worn as real shoes.
Candy! Yes, hard candy. I buy big bags of individually wrapped candies and put them in a Ziplock bag. The bag itself is often seen as a gift.Due to customs/import regulations candy, and toothpaste, are no longer allowed in 2017.
- Toys! In addition to a decent toys like a doll or Hot Wheels, I add in Dollar Store party favors–noisy ones, fun ones, stickers all that kind of stuff. Heck it’s a gift–it should be fun too! REMEMBER: No military, guns or other violent toys. These are not allowed.
- Scrapbook paper photo frames are nice too. Families the world over prize photos of their family. A paper frame can easily be packed at the bottom of the box and will look pretty on their wall.
- Pretty bandanas are great for older girls’ boxes. I put one in every box. I try to coordinate it with the clothing. Hair barrettes and other hair accessories are great in any age girl box, but avoid sequins and other sexualizing styles. Hair stuff can be bought in big packs and divided among the boxes.
- Wordless board books or ones with a single English word are great for young children.
- Flashcards of math facts are fairly universal and will increase a child’s learning.
- A world map is another great print-out to add. It can add to the child’s education and can be a home decoration.
Pretty, but sturdy, bags my Mom made last Christmas
A word about homemade items.
Sigh. In many places these are seen as less than nice. These people make do all the time. Store-bought shows it cost a lot and that makes it valuable–you really “gave” with this. Lots of sites have cute crafty-toys and sweet pillow case dresses and the like. Just be aware that some people may be disappointed by these. Again, ask yourself, would my kids enjoy this? Here are some of my favorite crafty ideas for shoe boxes.
But isn’t this Missionary Activity?
You support….MISSIONARY ACTIVITY?? Yes, you see I’m aware that missionaries provide way more than Bibles. I’ve lived in Malawi and spent extended time in Ukraine–both countries have dire poverty, although it looks a bit different in each country. And, one of my children remembers getting a shoe box in a Ukrainian orphanage. So, if your picture of missionaries comes from the beginning of the African Queen,update yourself! Today, missionaries feed the hungry, provide safe birthing centers and other desperately needed medical care, build and staff schools, care for orphans, provide safe wells and clean water and teach sustainable agriculture–much like Peace Corps. But they add the message of Hope thru Christ.
Oh But missionaries teach hate…. Nothing is said about hating anyone. Nothing. This is for children. And their parents–parents who are struggling to simply give their children enough to eat. It gives HOPE. Hope is a huge thing in life. Hope and positive reinforcement can change children’s lives. I’ve seen it first hand. It is still there in my home every Christmas when the memory of that shoe box comes up. So, YES, I support Opperation Christmas Child very, very willingly.