Operation Christmas Child: My “Musts”


My shoeboxes are nearly done. I’ve been putting photos of a lot of them on my Instragram. I do this to help people see what a shoebox can bring a child. Yes, I know that clothes or shoes may not fit. Guess what? They don’t necessarily shop like we do. They can go to the local market and swap or resell it for something that does fit. That brings me to my first MUST

The WOW item!

I’ve written before of how this did not seem like a big deal to me until I spent a week at the Processing Center in Boone, North Carolina [a trip well worth the motion-sickness on those mountain roads!

Suggested WOW items by age that I like to pack:

Ages 2 to 4

  • A small fleece blanket of their own. Cosleeping is only a great thing if you are upper-middle class and first world. The rest HAVE to do it.
  • A cute toddler backpack.
  • A big stuffie to hug often with it’s own blanket.
  • A soft baby doll.

Ages 5 to 8 Girls

  • A Barbie in a darker skin-tone. My boxes have never gone to a country with a predominately white population. In the USA kids are now very multicultural, but that is not true everywhere. Children need dolls that look somewhat like them. I prefer these so they are not naked. I get extra clothes on clearance or at Dollar Tree. I do NOT buy Dollar Tree’s “fake Barbie’s” they break.
  • A Playmobil carry case set–one with at least one dark-skinned character.
  • An age-appropriate soccer ball with pictures of women’s soccer teams.
  • Every girl this age gets a jump-rope–not as the wow, just a mandatory item.

Ages 5 to 9 Boys


  • A medium-sized Lego kit [age appropriate & found on sale or clearance)
  • A Playmobil Carry Case Set–especially the soccer one [even though it does not have an action figures that are non-white]
  • A large superhero action figure [that’s boy-marketing for “doll” the size of Babrie]. Great Christmas toy clearance item.
  • A soccer ball, pump & extra pump needle. [Buy these in a box of 24 for $24 at Dollar Tree. Do NOT pay normal retail–especially at Target who seem to think there’s a gold-plated! )
  • One of the cool new games I mentioned in last week’s shoebox post.
  • A packable backpack. (I get these on Clearance each summer at Walmart).

Girls 10 to 14

This is a really hard one because as of this year I have committed to supplying a “period pack” in each girl’s box in this age range. I also try to provide a scientific calculator and geometry set–after last year’s overspending [I’m not a math person] I get these at dollar stores. Still, I try to provide a WOW that isn’t about hygiene! [Period pack contains, 1 overnight pad [reuseable–buy them on Amazon, 2 regular, 1 panty liner, 1 extra underpants, 1 dark washcloth, safety pins [to help them stay in place better] all in a wet-bag.]

  • A pretty notebook or journal
  • A cute small stuffie
  • A fleece blanket
  • A craft kit such as those inexpensive “make a no-sew quilt” kits [hint: Shop after Christmas Clearance!] or hooked rug or whatever. Cross-stitch kits are another good one.
  • Though small, nice [cosmetic jewlery] earrings, necklaces, sunglasses are always fun. So, too, are fake-fake nails. That is, the kind you buy at the drugstore or Walmart–not at a nail place.
  • A nice, cute, small purse.
  •  A packable backpack. (I get these on Clearance each summer at Walmart).
  • One of the cool new games I mentioned in last week’s shoebox post.
  • A soccer ball–I send the “girliest” ones I can find so they boys may not want to take it away!


A lot of folks like to do toolboxes for boys. I go back and forth on this. I’ve never had a Dollar Tree screwdriver last more than a few jobs. If I remembered to look after Christmas for clearance toolsets then, then I might grab it. Tools are a great thing. And, they are not the same as what I call “Bridal Shower” boxes for girls this age. No girl in any of these countries needs things like plastic spoons or a one-egg cast iron skillet! They’ve likely been cooking since they were about 4. Cookie cutters? Who has an oven? Boys tools though can be a help. But I suspect these are mainly given due to no idea what older boys like and because Harbor Frieght does monthly freebies–no harm in that! One of their tarps could be a real God-send for a family–honestly. But I don’t like to see these sent with nothing for the “boy”–not just the young man. Where are the school supplies? Art supplies [though do not try to send pastel crayons–they melt into goo].

  • A soccer ball is the default for boys of any age. My kid wasn’t big on sports though. I suspect there are others like that in the world, but this year I sent a boatload of them! I do not buy them wholesale. I tried that. It felt too impersonal. I pick each one out of what is on clearance.
  • A Fleece blanket
  • A hoodie–I keep reading how folks need something appropriate for “their” winter. When you see folks in Malawi in puffy winter coats that is a fashion statement–a comment on their success, their status. A hoodie is about as much as anyone needs. Thankfully a lot of new fabrics are far less bulky. You can also put it in a gallon ziplock bag and sit on it to get the air out. Flattens it nicely!
  • High-quality flip-flops. Think Kohls or a teen store. With leather straps. My 25 year old offered to buy one such pair from me. I do not send bigger than men’s size 8/9. [More on this in a later post]
  • Sneakers. I do not send socks unless I send shoes. What’s the point? People love to stuff in cheap no-show socks from Dollar Tree. Really? To wear with what??
  • Nice basic tools
  • Advanced drawing book. Hobby Lobby or Michael’s clearance or Half-Priced books are great sources.
  • A great, discounted, Lego set for older ages. I got a super sports car one this year!
  • A replica international soccer jersey–if you travel, especially in a World Cup year, this woudl be good.

A Complete outfit with underpants

I shop Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, Old Navy, Marshall’s, Gabes, and anywhere else. I have a friend who uses her Kohl’s cash for me for some of my girls’ dresses. There is a good variety. I have also picked up Pass-for-new or tags-still-on new at yard sales. My price point for a very nice, brand new dress is $5–that is the MOST I’ll pay. Usually, I get $1 to $3. Old Navy was a dream this year! Lots of dresses under $2 on clearance and all things my own daughter would have worn–that is the test for me. Shopping year-round makes this possible. There are a zillion Dollar General stores near my home [truly about 20] and we are equal distance from 5 Walmarts! My commute to work adds 3 more!

Everywhere has a warm season. I send clothing for that. A dress or skirt/top for girls, once in a while modest shorts or leggings, but usually a skirt or dress. For boys shorts and a shirt. Two pairs of underpants (more for the oldest girls).

Underpants go down to $1–3 dollars per big pack at Walmart at least once per year. I stock up. Target does the same, but never for $1. It’s not a burden at those prices. I mostly stick to clothes in the “top” size of the age-range so it isn’t hard to remember sizes. Ask friends with kids–did they buy any this year the kid didn’t like? See if they’ll  donate the unworn ones/



Photo: Dollar Tree.com

Unless shoes are the Wow! item.

Full School Supplies

My List

  • 10 Pencils–preferably the gold standard, Dixon Ticonderoga. I shop sales online and in stores. Last week I got many packs of 10 “rainbow” colored D-T’s for $0.75 each. That’s cheaper than Dollar Tree charges for 12! But, many do get pencils from Dollar General’s amazing back to school sale or from Dollar Tree or where ever.
  • 2-4 pens both black/blue. Toddlers may only get one if I run low.
  • 4 good quality cap erasers. I love these from Amazon.
  • Notebook–either normal 8 1/2 x 11 or 5 x 7.
  • Toothbrush [no it isn’t a “school supply, but I just put it in the pencil bag].

1-2 block erasers. This year it was two for big kids. I splurged and bought these (I love them) and the matching rubber bracelets for many of the bigger kids. Sadly, the “matching” pencils bags are poor quality and, like the notepads they do not all match up with the erases. I bought those a few years ago and have not bought them again.

  • Small pencil sharpener
  • Good pencil sharpener–when I can fit it in.
  • 12 Colored pencils
  • Ages 2-4 and 5 to 9 get crayons. I just snagged two cases for next year at $0.10 a box!
  • School scissors
  • This year–fun little erasers from Clearance at Target’s Dollar Spot

Extras if I’ve found them on clearance include: Post-its and highlighters for big kids, red pens, fun erasers, bookmarks, colored gel pens, cute pens, cute little post-its or notepads, rainbow pencils–whatever!

Ages 5 to 9 and 10 to 14 get one of those “How to draw” books from Dollar Tree–they are good!

A Stuffie

It is a rare box that doesn’t get some stuffed animal or some stuffed “thing” to love. My brother and I, my kids and I, my cousin, her kids–we all LOVED our stuffed animals. I get most of these free from donations. I do shop clearance at Dollar General for these and at one Thrift Shop that I know does truly use the disinfectant spray like daycares and hospitals are supposed to use. Any I get “used” are indistinguishable from new. This year these included “squishy” superheroes for big boys. They are too cute! Toddlers may get more than one. I look all year for small ones for big kid boxes–and silly ones that will appeal to big boys. Dollar Tree had little dinosaurs this year and I did a toddler box with them. So cute. Ask friends with kids if they are decluttering. They’ll likely overwhelm you with stuffies for free. Garage/yard sales have given them to me when I explain my purpose.


Toddler dinosaur box with Dollar General small $1 dinosaur stuffies. The cute flip-flops were also from Dollar General I think.

Coloring Book

This is one item I LOVE Ollies for! They have super coloring books for all ages for $0.79 to $1.99 and way nicer adult ones than Dollar Tree has! Ok, the Flinstones color books I got for little kiddos were in Spanish, but so what! Lots of my boxes went to Spanish-speaking countries last year! I look for big, simple illustrations for toddlers. The 5 to 9 age I usually do well at Dollar Tree, too. The adult ones are mostly from Ollies, but I did buy some great Dover Coloring Books car and soccer coloring books this year, too. I splurged and got 4 of each, an extreme sports and a horse coloring book, too. They were full-size, not those tiny ones Dover also makes.

For Toddlers

  • A bowl, cup, fork and spoon. My favorite cup/bowl are at Kroger each summer, but this year they went to Clearance way too early and I only got one or two packs. I found these Pillowfort brand sets at Target. They are very high quality, a little harder to pack, but worth it. Research shows toddlers who get their own servings of food, and do not eat from a parent or sibling’s plate, are better nourished. Every toddler box gets a set. I skip the plate–too hard to pack and so many cultures eat with their hands or a spoon for soup, that the tableware could be skipped.
  • Board Book. Dollar Tree has tons of these.

Wait? What about soap?

That’s a post for another Friday! Collection week is in November. I have a lot of shoebox posts to come this year! I LOVE doing shoeboxes! It’s a passion. I hope some of you will be inspired to even do ONE box this year!

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