It’s Shoebox Time! What to pack for big girls!


Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, is a favorite of mine! I love packing shoeboxes for children all over the world. They have a suggestion list of what to pack, but today I’m sharing a few of my favorite things to include for girls ages 10–14, the oldest age group.

Note: This is a long post! If you just want to see photos of box contents, scroll down!

School Supplies: To me, these are MANDATORY in every single shoebox, regardless of age or gender. I include a notebook, pencil pouch with 10-12 pencils, big eraser and 4-6 cap erasers, sharpener, 2-4 pens, and school scissors, and a box of colored pencils. Little children, ages 2 to 4 and 5 to 9 receive crayons, but I do worry that they will melt. I always put then in a ziplock sandwich bag.

Older girls need some different supplies. In some countries, a scientific calculator and a geometry set are needed for secondary school. This year I was able to put both in four of my big girl boxes and plan to put them in more next year.

Girls also need re-usable sanitary products to avoid missing school during their period. Menstruation causes girls to miss more school than illness. I planned for four boxes to receive these, but in the end, I was able to provide them for six boxes. I hope to provide EVERY older girl box with them next year.  Yes, you can sew them, but I found them at a very affordable price on Amazon so I will keep buying them. Each “period pack” I sent had a wet bag, 3 pads, picture instructions, safety pins in case they were not stable enough, extra underpants, washcloth, soap, and quart ziplock freezer bags for soaking/washing.

Housewares and Taboos

I am troubled by the number of “bridal shower” gifts I’ve seen discussed. That isn’t the name the senders have given them, I just see them that way. A skillet? Cooking utensils? Clothesline and clothespins? Those are old-time bridal shower gifts! I doubt you’ll find many tweens or teens ANYWHERE dreaming of those items, no matter how practical. Remember, ask yourself: What do they do NOW? And, Would My Daughter Like That?

People tend to send clothesline/clothes pins with sanitary napkins forgetting that local taboos rarely allow for outdoor, public drying of any undergarments except diapers! The toilet is not a topic for discussion, nor is menstruation. For this reason, I agree with Days For Girls, a charity devoted to ending menstrual stigmas in developing countries, and send a dark-colored washcloth and dark underpants. The pads shown above are the “reverse” side–the “skin” side is black to hide stains.

Some of the things I like to include in big girls’ boxes

Note: Only ONE pair of shoes or flipflops actually went into any box. I was planning when I snapped these photos.

In EVERY box, regardless of age/gender, I try to put a complete outfit that includes underwear. Operation Christmas Child suggests (it is a suggestion–not a mandate) a t-shirt. That’s great. But does the girl wear it over her ragged old dress? Does a boy wear it with shorts that no longer have a fully covered crotch? I send a dress or skirt/shirt to each girl.


I LOVE these sets of two combs from Dollar General (I can’t link–they are in-store only). They are heavy-duty, work with any hair and can be used to de-tangle wet hair. My daughter saw them in my shoebox stash one year and tried them. I’ve bought them for every big girl box since, though I put only one per box since my daughter claims they work equally well.  Otherwise, I do not send too much hair stuff since African girls of school-age often must shave their heads. With no control over where the boxes go, I don’t want to send a lot that can’t be used.

This year I often added leggins for older girls–I’ve noticed in many photos from Peace Corps and missions I follow those girls that age seem to like to wear them under their dresses.

Stuffies I try to put something soft and lovable in EVERY box. Some for boys are silly so they won’t be teased. This year I mostly sent big girls clip-on stuffies for a purse or backpack, but a few got regular ones.

Themed School Supplies Girls have so little most places that is pretty or cute. See the canvas pencil bag in the bottom “brown” picture? It has hedgehogs on it! So, inside are hedgehog stickers,  pencil with pencil topper, erasers, etc. She also gets a small hedgehog stuffie! Most boxes have this sort of thing–one was pink flamingos–it even had no-show/footie socks with the motif.


Craft kits or art kits are great! Many countries still have home ec or needlework as part of school. Last year I sent a decorate your own water bottle, messenger bag, and wallet kits. This year I sent a [very thin fabric] no-sew Trolls quilt kit and several small needlework kits like in some of these photos. [Taken them out of the box and put the contents and pictures cut from the box in a large ziplock, press out the air. ] Be sure to read the instructions before packing! A hooked rug kit, for example, rarely includes the necessary hook! Be sure to include it. I also have included homemade kits. Remember, liquids are not allowed–not even tiny, totally sealed little cups of paint in $1 art kits (similar to the one shown in a photo above). They will be removed at the processing center.

Grown-up Coloring Books and Colored Pencils These are a nice addition, though I find the Dollar Tree ones pretty lacking. I’ve found much, much nicer ones at Ollie’s.


Folding or Travel Backpacks Walmart has these in the purse area that are really cute. I got all of them for $2 each by being patient. They fold up into a pouch so they pack easily. This year most got a clip-on stuffie–often to match a school supply theme. In the large picture, a backpack is behind the needlework kit. Another is in the top, left, pictured next to the flip-flops. You can find plain ones in most camping/hiking sections. I also found shopping bags at Dollar Tree that went into a fist-sized draw-string stuff bag.

Purse or Messenger Bag A cute purse is a great addition to a big girl’s shoebox, instead of a backpack. Often school books are paperback and much smaller so they can use a cross-body bag just as well for the walk to school

Shoes or Flip-flops: I’ve watched parasites and worms be dug out of feet in Malawi. I try to shove these into every possible box. (You can see 2 pairs in some photos–I took the picture as I planned out the box. Only one pair goes in each box). I rarely send socks if I am not sending actual shoes. I make exceptions for a pair to go with a theme.

Modest-making items I dread sending a pretty dress or blouse that could sexualize a girl or, to put it crudely, raise her “street” value. So the brown dress got a small “shrug” sweater and a few tank top-style dresses got matching t-shirts which I always pack in the dress so they see the outfit as it is intended. A few little girls dresses got those shorts sold for under dresses, as well. Bras are a problem–so many are padded and though very little padding (meant for t-shirts) it is again a sexualizing problem, so I choose bras very carefully.

Age-appropriate earrings and jewelry –I usually buy clearance-priced cards of earrings and donate any I feel are too “mature” to other groups.

Other items that missed the photos, but are “usually” found in my big girl boxes: The small sewing kits you find in clear plastic bag/cases at Dollar Tree–they have a surprisingly good amount of useful materials. Also from Dollar Tree a new style of snack box (sold in 3 packs in the summer) that are perfect for soapboxes. While I don’t always send soap (taboos get in the way of using some products), I do ALWAYS include a high-quality toothbrush or two.

Pretty journal or stationery set I recall one shoebox recipient fondly remembering this in a video. Easy to pack and practical.

Fleece blanket A thin fleece blanket can fit easily and be a help to the girl, especially during her period.

Water Bottles Is there anywhere these shoeboxes go that a water bottle isn’t a great addition? Skip Dollar Tree and buy high quality. Get the type you can easily stuff the clothing into to save space. I tend to get these at Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Gabe’s or yard sale. Americans have billions of these crammed into cabinets that have never seen use. I don’t care if they have a logo–I care about quality and durability.

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