OCC Shoebox Packing: Pack THIS, not THAT




I wish I had photos for all of these, but I simply do not! I’ve lived in Malawi and spent extended time in Ukraine (actually where I was is part of Russia now). My education, travel and Peace Corps training taught me a few things about cultural sensitivity. Here is my extended list of what to pack– and what not to pack.

No matter what have the WOW item. If that’s all you can do, then that’s great. A “Wow” item is a decent sized doll or stuffed animal or a soccer ball with pump or a bigger-sized toy car or something like that. Every kid doesn’t dream of a soccer ball but they are a good go-to item. Keep to traditional gender stereo-types though. The local culture dictates what kids can have and be–not American P.C. thought.

Just No

  • Deodorant
  • Kleenex
  • Wet-Wipes
  • Q-Tips
  • Tampons
  • Toilet paper
  • Crafts that your kids wouldn’t want
  • Things that look super homemade
  • Left over t-shirts or “stuff” from events [see below]
  • Left over soccer uniforms or other sports uniforms
  • Anything with a snake or skull & bones
  • Toy snakes or any kind
  • Those stupid golf tee games on a triangle of wood
  • Anything Poo-emoji
  • Stuffed animals that make noise or light up
  • Girls shirts meant to be layered–they won’t be
  • Boxer shorts with an unsecured fly. They will be shorts. Sew on a snap.
  • Anything that makes a girl “sexy”–girls are sold. Childhood is often ugly. Help her don’t hurt her. Plain “girl” underpants–nothing more grown up. No cut-outs. No tacky. They can up her street value.
  • American-themed items
  • St. Patrick’s Day and other holiday t-s or other items (see below)
  • Fast Food kids cups or birthday cups [I can “give in” on this one–better than none, but not very durable]
  • Fast Food toys–unless they are just “extra” in the box
  • Party Favors–unless they are just “extra” in the box
  • Toy Food
  • SEEDS [there are very strict laws on importing seeds do to plant diseases!]
  • Silly putty or similar–no one knows what this is and may eat it.
  • A cut-in-half Composition Book [too cheap for words]
  • Used items
  • Anything on this list.

Exceptions to Left-over Event or Holiday Merchandise

  • Sturdy drawstring backpacks or tote bags from events or advertising. [not the super thin ones]
  • Good quality water bottles from events or advertising.
  • Pencils and pens or notebooks from events or advertising.
  • Holiday socks if not too garish and no skull & crossbones, witches, spiders, snakes.
  • Lanyards, carabiner clips, Slinkys, nice toys or stuffed animals (can you remove the “ad”?) if EXTRA in the box–never the WOW.
  • Hand tools, sewing kits other similar
  • Good quality winter head bands or hats [not Dollar Store quality]
  • Golf tournament hand towel with small logo
  • Cosmetic company bonus bag–makes a great girls pencil bag.


What Can I Re-Gift from my kids’ room?

  • Any clothing that is deemed acceptable that has never been worn or washed is fine to me.
  • Toys that have never been played with or stuffed animals that went unloved are fine.
  • Duplicate small Lego sets or Polly Pocket-type sets (these can be repacked with the picture from the box in a Ziplock like a puzzle). Duplicate Matchbox or Hot Wheels that are new.
  • Shoes worn once or twice that they didn’t like at all used can been cleaned to look brand new are fine to me. These are not “used.”
  • Duplicate wordless board books in excellent condition.
  • Never-used baby blankets–fine for toddler boxes.

If THIS send THIS also

  • If sending ART SUPPLIES, send PAPER (it can be so expensive it’s sold by the page)
  • If sending anything needing batteries, send plenty of extras
  • If sending PENCILS, send extra ERASERS and a small SHARPENER. Students in many countries must use pens. Mistakes are not “good” so they do their work in ink.
  • If sending menstrual hygiene kits send extra soap, extra Ziplock bags and send this DISCREETLY in the bottom of the box. (Would your daughter want to open a gift of Kotex pads in front of people?).


My list of the Best Stuff to Pack In Any Age/Sex Box

  • Water Bottle
  • Flexible plastic cover Composition Book
  • Pencil bag and pencils, sharpener and pens
  • Woven or polo shirt [these are “best” because few if any will be washed in a machine and dried in a machine. Cheap t-shirts stretch out of shape easily).
  • Underpants. Underpants protect girls with one more layer and they give everyone dignity.


Good stuff for Ages 2–4

  • Baby blanket. They do not sleep in cribs and sharing a blanket gets old.
  • Toddler sized bowl, cup and silverware. This helps ensure a real serving of food for a small child who may instead be fed from mother’s plate or an older siblings bowl.
  • Wordless board book.
  • Very simple coloring book and crayons.
  • Don’t overdue the hair clips, bands, etc for girls. Nearly all of Africa shaves their head! Boys and Girls–especially as children.


Good Stuff Ages 5–9

  • Active toys like jump ropes and balls
  • Drawing paper and crayons or colored pencil
  • Puzzles (cut out the picture and put it all in a Ziplock



Good Stuff Ages 10–14


  • Simple tools or sewing kits
  • Solar calculators
  • Cotton Menstrual hygiene kits [packed at the bottom of the box]
  • Light weight fleece blanket


Remember that cultural taboos can be very real. Few parents in America want anything with the Poo emoji–some cultures dictate a hand to eat with and a hand for…well…the poo! Animals can have taboos as well. A stuffed animal that lights up or makes noise could terrify a little child. Sharing blankets and co-sleeping is romantic only when its a choice. As puberty begins separate is best.

Homemade is insulting in some circumstances. These boxes are sent from the wealthiest nations on Earth to the poorest. Just because you love making a craft doesn’t mean the recipient will like it or even know what it is! Getting something brand new and from the store MATTERS. They make do and make things all the time. They have to. Getting “junk” is what they see when they get many craft projects. An example I saw that left me appalled–a Youth Group had “destroyed” [to the local population] beautiful white sneakers by “coloring” them with Sharpies. This would most likely be insulting. They looked homemade and frankly….tacky.  Most kids’ “no sew” crafts are not going to be appreciated for the same reason.

If you want kids to learn to serve have them decorate the boxes and write notes or help at a packing party. Kids MAY also donate never-worn acceptable shirts or may re-gift a never used acceptable toy or collect party favors or Fast Food toys for EXTRA in a box. Children old enough to learn to sew or make paracord lanyards, or friendship bracelets or wooden toys or other things at an adult standard should definitely be encouraged to do so. Kids can also do things to raise awareness of the program like these rocks! [They do not need to be this fancy].


Photo: Operation Christmas Child


Some of the homemade toys are not understandable outside of the USA. Put in a photo “instructions.”  Recycled t-shirt tote bags or jump ropes or many other recycled or up-cycle gifts are another thing that can be taken wrong–that the sort of thing they use of necessity not because it’s fashionable to recycle.

If you want to craft look at the many ideas in my Pinterest board below. These are certainly NOT all the “good” crafts. Bags and dresses or skirts or shorts are great sewing projects. Warm hats or mittens in normal colors or washcloths are super items to crochet. Pencil bags are another excellent crochet item as are soap “covers.”  Wooden cars are a great toy to put in! They’re durable and run well across unpaved surfaces.

There are GREAT ideas for using the lid of the box as a toy–such as race track for Hot Wheels or making a very simple doll house of Foosball game from the box. Always include a PHOTO so they know what it is!

Last of all, remove as much packaging as possible. It will just float around the area as trash. Remember, too, that American packaging is horrendous if you don’t understand it. Want a child to have a headless Barbie from ripping her out of the packaging (well, trying to!)




3 thoughts on “OCC Shoebox Packing: Pack THIS, not THAT

  1. This was an interesting read. I appreciate your insights. I had no idea about hair stuff being of no use for many African girls — making note of that.


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