Last week I traveled with a friend and her former church’s OCC Shoe Box team to volunteer at the Boone, North Carolina shoe box Processing Center. We were an awesome team! I loved the servant’s hearts each person had and that everyone made me–a total stranger to all but one person–completely welcome. We stayed in a rented vacation home that easily accommodated all of us. Each day we went off to the Processing Center and manned an inspection and boxing line. It was a blast! I was thrilled that they let me inspect boxes every day–it was so cool! I got to experience each box I touched as though I was the receiving child. That was VERY instructive!
Lesson Learned #1: The WOW item matters!
OCC asks that each box have a “Wow” item that will immediately appeal to the child. It is most often a toy, doll or soccer ball, but could also be a lovely purse for an older girl or a tool box for an older boy or a nice pair of shoes for any age. What matters is that it is easily the very 1st thing they see!
Unfortunately, my phone DIED the day we arrived, so I have only photos taken by others on the team. Above is a box I packed that I’ll use to illustrate the WOW! factor. This 5 to 9 year old boy will open his box and instantly see this nice soccer ball with its pump. WOW! Get it? Don’t skip this. Put less in the box if you have to, but do NOT skip the WOW! I have been seriously underestimating its importance!
Lesson # 2: Quality Over Quantity
The need is really great for boxes and they bring not only stuff, but HOPE. Most of the children receiving these boxes live on the edge of homelessness and and even starvation, so HOPE is very, very needed. Later this week I’ll be talking more about some commonly packed items, but for now I will say choose WISELY. Better quality makes a nicer gift. Many of the boxes I processed had the foul smell of stone-cold, workhouse charity. Others, though meager, clearly showed the true sacrificial giving of the “widow’s mite.” [See Luke 21:1-4]. We want that hope to come wrapped in love. The box should show that it truly is a gift–God’s provision and the love of a member of Christ’s own family. Many churches have a very incorrect vision of what the Processing Center’s “filler items” are. Don’t send nearly empty boxes. Just don’t. I’ll discuss this more later in the week.
Lesson #3: A Note and a Photo
I do pray for every child who receives my boxes and I pray in other ways for the program and the children, but I do not include a photo or a note. This year I will include a short, generic note. Since I concluded my Peace Corps service in Malawi over 25 years ago and still get an occasional letter at a friend’s house (where I lived briefly after my service) I no longer give my address out in the so-called 3rd world. I can’t solve the problems. I can give to charities that can, however, so that is my response to the letters. I don’t want more letters.
But over and over I have heard and read how much the recipients enjoyed reading the letters and even put up the photos on their wall. Many even consider this the most treasured item in their box. So, you might want to consider a first names only letter and photo.
Lesson #4: The Box
I found out the great thing about these little red and green gems–23 of them go in one carton–allowing a uniform number in each carton. ANY shoe box is acceptable, but PLEASE–shoe box means just that: SHOE box–not BOOT box. They do take those boot boxes and ship them, but yikes! what a cost! And at the other end there may be a carton that does not deliver enough boxes.
The pre-printed red and green cardboard boxes are a big cost savings over buying plastic ones — 100 for $22. Operation Christmas Child also sells plastic red and green logo-ed boxes that result in a uniform number per carton as well. A dozen of these cost $18. The plastic boxes I like to send result in a similar amount of boxes per carton and have just a bit more space. Do NOT buy the cheap plastic boxes at Dollar Tree!!! Later this week, I will focus on the many GREAT items at Dollar Tree, but sadly, their plastic shoe boxes are awful. There was another type plastic box that has latches on each end that stick out–skip those, too. You can’t pack very many in a carton.
Lesson # 5: They Pray!
We really did stop work at various times to have devotions, here a shoe box recipient’s story and PRAY! We prayed for the child receiving the box and that he or she receive exactly the right box. Around the Center there were boxes to put in prayer requests–the permanent staff of Operation Christmas Child prays over these.
Lesson #6: It is Super Fun to Volunteer at a Processing Center
It can be a challenge to get a reservation to volunteer, but don’t give up! Call back later on and see who has cancelled or cancelled a few spots. Later this week I will show you more of what we did.
Have you volunteered at an OCC Processing Center? If so, leave me a comment with your lessons learned.