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Operation Christmas Child: My First Packing Party!

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I went to a marvelous party
I must say the fun was intense
We all had to do
What the people we [hoped]
Would be doing a hundred years hence

Noel Coward, I Went To A Marvelous Party

Operation Christmas Child would probably cease to exist without the generosity of churches who collect merchandise year-round, sew tote bags, pencils pouches, dresses, sanitary pads and hair bands, crochet, and knit hats or sweaters, braid jump ropes out of unwanted t-shirts, and, best of all, have special collections to help with the cost of shipping and The Greatest Journey materials. Thank you to ALL groups–not only churches, who do these things!

Last year I went with a church about two hours away to the OCC Boone, North Carolina, Processing Center. (You can read the first of those posts HERE).  This weekend I drove back up to that church to participate in their annual shoebox packing party. I was amazed! This church is fairly close to the state capital, but people are not rolling in money. Like the community I live in and the one in which my own church is located, each gift is an act of generosity and may even represent true sacrificial giving. Yet the over 500 boxes went out generously and appropriately filled. No need for filler at the processing center–if there is any the day they go through. (Read my post on FILLER here).

Here are my thoughts on why this party was so successful:

ORGINIZATION!!!!

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See those stacked up boxes?? Those are the empties–all lovingly wrapped by one woman. She wraps ALL the shoeboxes for the church with donated wrapping paper. A true labor of love!

The lady who oversees OCC at this church knows her stuff! She volunteers regularly at Boone and knows how to pack a GREAT shoebox.  Everything was very well organized and the space between “lines” was generous so crowding and jostling did not occur.

Clear Instructions to Volunteers

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Everyone who arrived for the start (that was not a mandatory time–folks were welcome to drop in or leave early as family needs dictated which was super). Everyone was told how the process worked and those who came yearly helped newbies without needing to be told to do so which was really nice. I talked with a little boy who was packing girls boxes all day intentionally! It was that kind of a group–caring!

Every box started with NEEDS: hygiene (washcloth, soap, toothbrush) most of which appeared to be bought in bulk, so likely these were provided by the church–though some items may have also been donated. School supplies were next—a box of 24 crayons, then a neat roll of twenty or so pages of notebook paper, (there were a few notebooks presumably for older kid boxes) a huge box of sharpened pencils (again these appeared to be a bulk purchase) which were banded together 3 at a time. (You could take more). There were a few erasers, too.

Then it was on to the fun stuff–toys, stuffies and more! There were stuffed animals (aka “stuffies”) suitable for any age, big to tiny. I loved sorting thru them to find just the right one for each box. How fun to add a bright red daucshund to two girls’ boxes! Another area had coloring books and a few picture books, then a great selection of balls, cars, etc. WOW items were mostly stuffies, but also Nerf footballs, a few Barbies and some other nice toys.

Finally, there were bins of flip-flops (bought on clearance in one purchase from Walmart, plus possibly some donations). Sadly, many people were too shy to sort thru the bins under the table to find a necessary size so many boxes went without. This was too bad–the sizes were generally there, but they needed to be dug out. The few clothing items available, as well as fabric for some girls boxes and a good variety of tote bags or backpacks, were the final items to select.

Every box got a letter that included the church’s name and address. There were also forms for children to fill out to tell the recipient about themselves–these are downloadable, HERE, from Operation Christmas Child. The boxes got rubber banded and placed at the foot of one of two altars in the church for prayers the next day.

Everything went very smoothly, people chatted happily and even a new face like mine was entirely welcome! Best of all, I got to catch up with the friends’ I made on my Boone trip.

I felt they did an outstanding job–as I’m sure all churches truly do!

My Thoughts for Any New Packing Parties

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1. Organize, organize, organize!!  I loved starting with the necessities!

2. Sort clothing, shoes and anything else age/size-specific and LABEL them if possible making sure the label can be seen without unfolding the item. (Due to time and money this isn’t always possible).

3. Signage. Have “TAKE ONE” or similar at each “station” so volunteers–esp those who drop in and out throughout the party, know how many. OCC has printable signs for this purpose HERE.

4. Have your youth group sort the early toy donations to weed out things with liquids (like little paint sets with liquid paint or with nail polish etc).  Also, have them weed out any obviously used toys–things must be new or be indistinguishable from new. Throw out broken or incomplete items.  The can also cut packs of stickers into twos or threes to include with school supplies.  Have them give messy-hair Barbies to someone willing to rehab and modestly clothe them in homemade or purchased outfits. Pinterst has instructions and clothing patterns. Have them sort donated boxes. A boot box is NOT a shoebox–toss those or use them as organizing tools.

5. Enlist your quilting, sewing, crocheting etc., groups  to make tote bags, pencil bags, nice, but simple girls dresses (do NOT use actual pillowcases! Some countries have said flat-out no more of these! Use nice fabric), cloth sanitary napkins and other items, crochet coverings for flip-flop straps, crochet, knit or sew little soft toys or other items. Get people involved! Crafters often love to help even if they don’t pack an actual shoebox themselves. Ask local businesses for leftover logo-ed pens, water bottles, cups, notepads, etc. (See the bottom of this post for my OCC Pinterest board with patterns).

6. Educate your church or group. Taboos mean Poo emoji, whoopie cushions and the like may be totally unwanted. Girls may not be able to wear shorts or revealing tops. Other items that may be unwanted are Barbies with no “painted on” clothing or wearing skimpy dresses.  Donate items like kleenex, wet wipes, deodorant, tampons and disposable sanitary napkins to LOCAL charities. Send cloth sanitary napkins which can be washed and reused in big girl boxes. (You can buy these on Etsy if you don’t sew). Remind everyone to remove ALL packaging. For puzzles, cut the picture off the box and put it all in a Ziplock bag. Keep only packaging necessary to explain an item or that provide storage like a crayon box. There isn’t any trash pick up in most countries the shoeboxes go to.

7. If sending clothing make sure it is an appropriate size. Few people are as large as Americans. Skip men’s sizes except Small. Just like in the USA though, girls sizes can be problematic. Don’t send thin, meant-to-be-layered t-shirts. They will be too revealing. Bras are expensive–a basic S-M-L sport or sleep bra is a huge help. Underwear is often too expensive for families in shoebox-receiving countries so be sure to send it when possible, but stick to modest girls styles with no “cute” designs or embellishments. Girls are commodities in many countries. Let’s protect them. Skip the cheap socks and send underwear. Socks are no good without shoes.

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Link to pencil bag pattern

8. School supplies are crucial! Paper can be so expensive you weep paying for it. In big kid boxes try to send a composition book or spiral notebook. This may be too expensive for some groups, I know. But talk to Wal-mart when school supplies are dirt cheap in late July and August. You can get spiral notebooks for a quarter. Erasers really do matter! Some children I’ve read about have had to erase old work and re-use the paper. But at least send the pencils! Did you know some children rent pencils and others are expelled for not having one? Forget folders and glue sticks–no one needs them. But try to get pencil bags–kids don’t have safe classrooms with desks to leave supplies in. This is a great project for a sewing group. Youth group, scout troop, or other group, can make them with ziplock freezer bags and cool duct tape.  Others make them from the boxes pencils come in by covering the box with contact paper or duct tape. My Pinterest board (at the bottom) has plenty of patterns for sewing, knitting or crocheting pencil bags.

9. Water doesn’t come out of the kitchen or bathroom taps. Water bottles are a GREAT thing. Any size, any design, but those with a wider mouth are great because school supplies and other little things can go inside them to save space in the box. A cup is always nice if you can’t afford water bottles.

10. Flip flops and shoes save lives as do toothbrushes. Why? Barefeet invite parasites like we never see! And an infected tooth may not meet antibiotics so it may cause death.

12. Skip kid-made crafts unless you send a photo of the children making them. They can be misunderstood. I was horrified to see a church elsewhere send beautiful white sneakers children had “decorated” or “ruined” depending on your perspective. Shoes are treasured and cared for. Put in the picture so they understand.

12. Include a note. These are cited over and over by recipients as so meaningful. You don’t have to include your last name or address. Photos are also really enjoyed. A family photo with first names is great. Why not do a family photo fund raiser? Snap a picture, print it out on regular paper and take donations? Put the money toward bulk purchases or shipping.

13. PRAY for each recipient as you pack and then again for all the boxes. It matters.

14. Follow up. Read out and post any thank you notes or emails the church or group receives. Report to the church any places your boxes–or the boxes of individuals in the church–have gone if you use the “follow your box” labels. This helps people to feel connected to the mission. Also by tracking where your boxes go, you can be more accurate in packing. If your boxes go to Northeast Africa, you can skip mittens, hoodies and other winter clothing items that eat up box space. Have a bulletin board where you can post information from the reliable, up-to-date source about a country or two each month. Post OCC videos or other materials from that country on your church website or on the bulletin board. These really help people to understand the dire poverty of most of the recipients.

Did you go to a packing party this year? Did you do a blog post on it? I’d love to learn from what others did this year. Leave me a link in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Operation Christmas Child: My First Packing Party!

  1. 500 boxes! What a tremendous achievement. Clearly a lot of time and thought went into this endeavour. The nearest things I am aware of here is to provide Christmas gift boxes for children who are in care homes who don’t have any family members to provide them with gifts. And another scheme is for people who live on the streets. Both are very worth while projects that I donate items to every year but I never thought about actually helping to pack the boxes. You’ve given me an idea!

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  2. Somehow I missed this post — I really enjoyed it! I’m still trying to imagine kids erasing work to reuse the paper. Wow!! So at this church, instead of people packing boxes and bringing them in, they donate things throughout the year and then have a packing party? That sounds fun. I would agree that organization would be hugely important. Does your home church do this? Because if not — you would be great at heading it up next year!

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    1. Yes reusing paper and others renting pencils are fact. Many, many, many churches do packing parties. People ALSO do pack their own boxes if desired. Most churches have a set list of items to bring in and big churches have a monetary collection to buy things in bulk and pay for shipping. This was not their best year I heard and there was almost no clothes and nearly all Wow items were stuffies this time. But they still did perfectly nice boxes. I don’t think any child could be dissapointed by one of their boxes. There was good stuff.My church doesn’t do OCC–they don’t in any way oppose it. We just had a local help charity evolve from our church and we are behind it 100%–it is now a full community partnership. They feed local kids thru a backpack program year round, offer 4 H Club and other “middle class’ experiences and take them on college visits and encourage hard work at school.

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