Filler: What it is and isn’t
Your church holds a packing party. You have decided to break your last year’s record of 319 boxes. But people haven’t brought as much stuff as last year. You’ve even put in Great Aunt Edna’s yearly output of Granny Square slippers that no one anywhere on the planet wants. A few funeral parlor fans and the church stapler have been packed. The pastor has maxed out his VISA card buying more stuff at the local Dollar Tree and the Youth Pastor is Ziplock-ing old French Fries from his van floor. You are stuck at 299 boxes. So you decide to put what you can in the other boxes needed to reach 320 and call it a night. The Processing Center, someone reminds everyone, will put in more. After all, someone else says, they have all kinds of stuff for those shoe boxes you can fill online for $25. Right?
Operation Christmas Child buys nothing except the materials for the Greatest Journey program. Shoe boxes are solely filled by volunteers like you and me. What you see in those green bins in the video above, and what the staff are loading into the white plastic bins for the processing stations, is called “Filler.” But no, it does not include the soccer balls, flip-flops and stuffed animals you can put in a $25 online packed shoe box. In fact, on my first day, we had stuff for filler that should have gone to the landfill–and I’m environmentally aware. I live near a landfill. We really don’t want more of those. Some days, we were told by staff, there was NOTHING to put in that box containing, say, only a tennis ball and a Bud’s Car Wash pen. NOTHING. Got it? No nice water bottles. No new socks. Not even a toothbrush.
- Graduation Cake decorations
- Unsold Halloween costumes (all the same)
- Mouse pads
- Flimsy cardboard Spaceman masks with just an elastic thread to hold them on.
- Spanish language “You can be a nurse” pamphlets (I did include English ones since Ghana–the country we were packing for that day, was a British colony and English is taught).
- A pillowcase dress made out of a pillow case so old it was totally transparent.
- A pillowcase dress made out of plain old muslin with straps made from 1970’s-era hem lace bought in the sewing notions department in a color not seen since the Carter administration. It was so ugly I cannot imagine someone wanting it. And, I’ve been to a village rated one of the poorest on Earth by the U.N.
- A zillion of the same fast food toy. (It might have been the canon in the 2006 Pirates of the Caribbean toy set–I didn’t open the bag to see.) Obviously this was not a popular one.
A note on some of these: Yes, they might like the little Graduation hat and diploma when they finish The Greatest Journey–they have a little ceremony. Yes, maybe Grandma could sit on the mouse pad. Yes, they could remake the dresses. But, come on! This is JUNK. And, in the case of the commercially produced items, they got tax credit for a gift in kind. The recipients KNOW these boxes are packed by some of the richest nations on Earth–the USA, the UK, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Australia, etc and . But guess what? They also have crap-o-meters. They can smell the garbage. I’ve seen the crap sent to Mozambican refugees back in the day. It was crap like this.
Filler the Good, or at least the acceptable
Other days the pickings were better–somewhat better at least. Mostly the good items came from donations by shoebox packers though, with a few exceptions.
- Padded drawstring bags in black or gray that were likely made for electronic devices. These were good quality and held pencils or, in one case, a bag of indiscreetly placed sanitary napkins. [Note to packers: No girl in any culture wants THOSE to be seen at a party, ok? Bury them under stuff.] Useful for Legos, marbles and other small toy collections or hair accessories.
- Small white stuffed dogs–very cute and high quality
- Shoebox-sized, but very nice Disney stuffed Nemos
- Shoebox-sized, but very nice, stuff San Francisco 49ers Footballs. Make great pillows.
- Other pillowcase-style dresses nicely made in bright, modern fabrics.
- Wooden cars–the best cars of all for an African village child.
- Plastic sandals in boys sizes.
- Finally some soap, wash cloths and toothbrushes.
- Two fabulous Pencil Granny packages of school supplies in big denim zipper bags, suitable for Secondary School students or to supply an entire family.
- A Lego set.
- Small sets of pens, pencils and paper.
- A few Hot Wheels
- Nice, teenage-appealing paperback Bibles in English.
If it isn’t donated, processors can’t add it. My team took a couple of small bags of leftovers for filler, but what Processing Centers need are semi-truck loads of GOOD STUFF. Though I wouldn’t pack it in a personal box, adding a left over soccer jersey is still adding a shirt. But it’s not a help if it’s an adult XXL. I recently read an article where a journalist bad-mouthed the program for people packing this sort of stuff. Sure, some people truly DID pack lousy stuff, but I was really surprised that Operation Christmas Child not only accepted this garbage but URGED it’s inclusion. So OCC is generating its own bad press with this! This is a WONDERFUL program. Help keep it that way by donating the type stuff it’s recipients NEED.
I get it–OCC must graciously accept (and re-gift) items to keep getting more filler items. But when you are the kid whose box contains half a spiral notebook (yes, people sent such things–cut in half with a buzz saw), a few left over restaurant crayons, and a man-size pair of boxers how will you feel when you see your best bud pulling out a brand new soccer ball, a cool t-shirt, sunglasses, a bag of marbles, a year’s worth of pencils, a big box crayons, a four-pack of toothbrushes and a Spiderman washcloth with soap? You’d feel unloved. You’d almost trade with the kid who got the Siberia-ready huge scarf and 6 bars of Zest! It matters that each box be filled with HOPE, LOVE, FUN and usefulness.
Maybe what they need are teams of experienced volunteers to sort shipments of filler? Then items for adults can be put aside for Hurricane relief or refugee camps or recycling or something like that?
So please: When you send your boxes, also send filler. Urge companies in your area to donate promotional water bottles, caps, pens/pencils/pads of paper, toys, lanyards, key rings, small size t-shirts or fleece or sweatshirts, golf towels, soap, highlighters, etc or simply pay for some GREAT STUFF. Know a dentist who is retiring? Urge him to send his stash of toothbrushes and floss to a Processing Center. If you craft–craft more for the filler bins–please! If you sew, sew some dresses and simple shorts, some pencil bags or change purses (if sewing clothing, please LABEL it with “Boy 5-9” so volunteers can put it in the appropriate box without having to stop, take off rubber bands and guess the size).
Have filler you want to donate? Want to give shoeboxes a ride to the processing centers? Here is the Gifts in Kind page. URGENT need is for School Supplies and QUALITY toys.
Packing Parties Please Read
Yes, the need is great. But only send what you can APPROPRIATELY fill. I know people are generally better about bringing simple items in than donating cash, but if you can do a special offering so you can fill your boxes much better. (I live in a very poor community–I know this isn’t always possible and I know that what is brought is a huge sacrifice to those families in such areas. But some people reading this don’t live in such areas and can do a special offering). At the Processing Center we had several cartons come thru from one church that got really boring to process–that’s good, by the way! They KNEW what to pack. The blog Simply Shoeboxes has great information on ordering toothbrushes and other things wholesale.
In my opinion (and it seems to be shared by most) EVERY box should have:
- Toothbrush(es)–I get great 4 for a dollar packs at Walmart–nicer than Dollar store ones.
- School supplies (you can skip the glue sticks–few countries receiving boxes have the luxury of art projects)
- Clothing item beyond socks (which aren’t used when you don’t have shoes)
- WOW item–toy, soccer ball, doll, real shoes (not flip-flops).
If a box doesn’t at least have these–save it for next year.
NOTE: I put Water Bottles or cups in as many boxes as possible, but sometimes I have better stuff so I skip it. Shoes or a really awesome WOW toy or extra little stuff that makes it a very nice themed box may rule out the water bottle or cup. But remember, many, many, many recipients must travel to get to clean water. Keeping it clean is important. Sharing cups or spoons with relatives who may have contagious illnesses is not a great idea, either.
And please STOP telling folks to bring DEODORANT, Kleenex and Wet Wipes (also Tampons). Please–just stop. Donate those to domestic charities and domestic disaster relief.