It’s Time to Pack Shoeboxes!

occ-logo-1200x1200Christmas in July has come and gone and my living room is filing up with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes! Samaritan’s Purse makes it fun and easy to give a hand-picked gift to children around the world. You can read all about the program here.

Today I thought I’d start my annual shoeboxes posts with what has worked well for me this year. Again this year I am loving my clothes organization idea from last year. It just works!


When I buy clothing I sort an entire outfit –shorts/shirt, skirt/top or dress with underpants into the bag.  If I run out of underpants I can add a note with the size needed for when I go shopping. I keep a running list in my phone of items needed. Then when I have time to pack a box, I just grab a bag to get started.

I am also loving my theme box storage. When I pack my annual Spiderman box, done to remember my son’s long-ago childhood obsession with Spidey, I just go to this organizer and pull out all the Spidey-stuff. It works! Believe it or not,  in the photo below, the mess on both sides is actually  a good thing–the hanging bags hold washcloths and soap boxes and to the right is an old bookcase that holds bins of stuffies and flip-flops. But the main attraction in the photo is the IKEA hanging organizer into which I stuff the themey-stuff!


This years theme boxes include:

  • Spiderman (annual)
  • Fireman for a toddler boy
  • Cats for toddler girl and bigger girl
  • Penguins for several boxes/ages
  • “My daughter’s box” with things she loved at that age
  • Horses for a 5 to 9 girl
  • Dinosaurs for both a toddler boy and a boy 5 to 8 years old



My other shoebox stuff organizer is this Ikea bookcase with baskets to hold categories of stuff–girls outfits, toddler toys, boys underwear, etc. I borrowed a storage hamper from my tall bathroom/laundry closet shelf to corral the soccer balls.



If you are not a year-around shoebox shopper, have you started your shopping yet? Do you have any special tips or plans you can share? Leave a comment or a link to your own post.


Operation Christmas Child: My First Packing Party!


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:



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


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


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.


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.


Operation Christmas Child: What are we all doing that’s new or different in 2018?



It’s National Collection Week at last! Find a drop-off location HERE.

This year I have made some changes–first of all I packed a huge number of boxes. That required shopping year-round. I kept finding bargains that were great quality and good for kids so I kept buying. Second I did my best to educate everyone I knew who packed shoeboxes to include school supplies and other essentials and to go light on dollar store toys! These were among the lessons I wrote about last year after I spent a week volunttering at the Boone Processing Center. [You can read the first of those posts here.]

I asked my friend Susan at Girls In White Dresses what she and her daughters are doing differently with their shoeboxes. Susan has packed shoeboxes for 20 years. She started when she was a Sunday School teacher and continued with her children. Today it’s an annual tradition for her family.  Susan is changing a few things this year:


Photo: S Braun

  • Removing packaging. This saves on shipping and, most places shoeboxs go do not have trash pick up or even a trash system. Trash blows around or gets put in a hole in the ground.
  • Sending water bottles. Clean water is a necessity and keeping it clean can be rough. To make the box more fun for the child she will also be packing items inside the water bottle–a great space-saving idea.


Photos: S Braun

  • Sending more school supplies. As a former teacher, Susan knows how important these can be, but now she is going beyond a pencil or pen or two and sending a nice little cache of useful items. (Please be sure to put crayons and magic markers in a ziplock over the box just in case.) Paper is often prohibitively expensive so please send a notebook of some kind if possible. Remember, too, that in most countries children cannot leave supplies at school–often there are no desks, no locks, etc. So a pencil bag or tote bag or backpack (the ones with strings take up little room) are a great help.

What I’m doing differently for 2018 and 2019

Sadly I forgot one of my planned big changes for 2018, so, in 2019 my big kid boxes will get math sets and scientific calculators.


  • Including Flip-Flops. Having heard from several shoebox recipients (via different sources) that flip-flops are appreciated or would be appreciated just as soap and clothing are, I’ll be putting flip-flops in more boxes when I can’t find shoes at a great price. I’ve always thought they were kind of a waste as they don’t hold up that well. This year many of my boxes include brand new shoes. Shoes can be a big expense for children who manage to go beyond the free early elementary years in many countries. I was diligent in searching for bargains and had many amazing finds! Nice, brand new shoes that my own kids would even wear. In fact, my daughter “bought” one pair off me by giving me the bargain price in cash!
  • Little Touches. A friend packed her first shoeboxes this year and did them early due to a planned move. I loved how she tied the emery boards with scraps of ribbon and did other cute things like that. It took no extra time or money or space in the box, but what a nice touch for a little girl who seldom sees or receives anything special or pretty. (Pretty, scented soap is another great girl gift).
  • Notes. The children repeatedly cite these as so meaningful that I want to include them so next year I’ll be including them for the first time.
  • Complete outfits. For 2018 no box has been packed with only a t-shirt.  Think about it–if you only own one dress you must then wear the nice new t-shirt OVER the yucky old dress! Girls will mostly receive dresses, a few will receive a skirt and blouse or t-shirt and one or two have shorts or leggings and t-shirt, but always clothing meant for girls. Always modest, but not frumpy. And all boxes include at least 2 pairs of underpants. With any clothing, I always ask myself, “Would my kid wear this?”


  • Better toys. I absolutely HATED much of JUNK I saw in boxes at the processing center. Whoopee Cushions? Really? Ugh. Cheap plastic clapping hands? This year there should be a flood of tasteless poo [“chocolate ice cream”] merchandise as that fad has finally hit the clearance isles. By joining Amazon Prime I have found great bargains on real Lego sets and Playmobil sets in little carrying cases, so several children will receive those. Also, one little boy is receving a nice wooden truck carrying blocks that I found on clearance after last Christmas.

messenger bag.jpg

  • Craft Kits. Several older girl boxes have coloring crafts–a messenger bag in one, a water bottle in another and so on. In the past I have made kits for paracord projects. I bought a stash of paracord dirt cheap. I print instructions with pictures and bag it all together.
  • White Socks. I go back and forth on socks or no socks? If you don’t have shoes, what good are socks? But I see so many pictures of schools all over the globe with girls in white scoks–usually short, cuffed ones that I’ve put a pair in every girl box. Happily I found great deals on them at Wal-mart!


What are you and your family or your church doing differently with your shoeboxes this year?


Some of my 100+ shoe boxes–an intentionally large number this year. In addition there are a carton of water bottles filled with school supplies and about 20 cartons pencil packs that I packed with the Pencil Granny and Friends facebook group. These will all go to the processing center to be filler for underfilled shoeboxes.



Doing a GREAT OCC Shoebox for free or almost free


Note: You will still need the $9 donation to help with shipping (a bargain) unless your church or other community group raises the money for this cost.




1. Swagbucks



  1. Order online via Swagbucks at Wal-mart and other stores–this is how I rack up most Swagbucks.
  2. Daily to do list
  3. Occasional searches
  4. Swag Codes

This takes almost no time! I barely bothered with it this year and I still came up with over $35 in Walmart gift cards! You can sign up here (THIS ONE I WILL GET PAID FOR–I usually refuse to make money on my blog but anything I earn on Swagbucks goes to charity) Sign Up for Swagbucks

2. Ibotta


I’m not a big consumer of convenience food, booze or restaurant meals, but I managed with minimal effort to earn over $35 in Walmart gift cards with Ibotta! Many, many of my items were the “Any Item” variety. You can sign up for Ibotta  (same deal as with Swagbucks, yes I get some points if you sign up, but I use  them all for charity). Ibotta Sign Up link.

3. Found Money I “earned” this year

  1. Unexpected freelance work or side jobs
  2. Product rebates
  3. Unexpected checks–dentist refund, class action settlement, etc
  4. Change found in the car, sofa, laundry
  5. Sold unwanted gift cards or cashed in balances too small to buy anything


Some Ideas I Still Haven’t Made Myself Do:

  1. Take the “total savings” from your grocery receipt and put the actual amount into an OCC “account”.
  2.  If you “save” by changing car insurance, phone plans or other put that actual amount into your OCC “account.”


Learn to Shop

Learning how to shop at various stores helped SAVE a tremendous about this year. There’s more than just Kohl’s Cash to use for huge savings!  Here are the ways I’ve learned to save this year:

  1. Dollar General stores have a weekly $5 off $25 coupon.They have occasional penny deals, too. I haven’t learned that but have accidentally gotten two 1 cent pencil pouches! And, the mark things down to 70% or more off, so be patient. Always make them check the shelf if they argue about a sign. It works.
  2. Wal-mart’s app lets you scan prices–this is helpful as they don’t always replace stickers or signs when they lower prices. I’ve occasionally had to re-scan an item to show it came up at the price I claim, but it’s always been honored. I’ve saved a ton with this–for my family as well as for OCC.
  3. Target’s app has Cartwheel offers even fro Clearance clothing and shoes–this includes shoes, too, so again I’ve saved on items for myself as well as for shoeboxes



Seasonal Savings28235557_10160939025410643_6066942570628437533_o.jpg

336 Pencils
368 erasers
96 stickers
Under $11.00

  1. Big Lots discounted all their summer flip-flops and sandals 90%. I hope this is an annual event.
  2. Dollar Tree marks down Christmas merchandise on December 26–I got tons of pencils this way and a few stuffies.
  3. Target marks down their Dollar Spot at the end it’s run–super bargains on socks, pencils, toys, bags, and other items.
  4. All stores mark down Valentines. Tagert and Walgreens went down 90% eventually and I got all the Valentines with pencils or erasers for next-to-nothing. (I used these for pencil packs for Pencil Granny and Friends who make them for under-filled shoeboxes –find them on Facebook.
  5. All stores eventually markdown school supplies, too. I got pencils bags for 50 cents or less at Walmart and a host of other bargains.
  6. Walgreens and Dollar General marked down their summer toys to 70 to 90% off. I got soccer balls for toddlers for about a dollar at Walgreens and more toys at Dollar General for under a dollar each–and those were on they the toys I felt were worth buying.
  7. Plastic shoe boxes are deeply discounted each January. I found great deals on 20 or 30 packs of them at Target and Walmart.
  8. Walmart marks packaged underwear down to $1 a certain times per year.


Big Lots summer shoe blow-out


4. Free Stuff

These all need to pass the “Would My Kids Like/Use this?” test. I don’t refuse good quality logo-ed water bottles, string backpacks and similar. Clothing I’m not wild about but it depends what it is. Excellent quality is the key with freebies. Some corporate toys are fine–who doesn’t love a squishy stress ball or similar? Logo-ed pens and other school supplies I take. They do the job for the kids just fine.


Freebies I Used This Year

  1. Socks from a pack I bought myself in a color that I just didn’t want
  2. Office supplies from a friend’s closed business
  3. Kid’s T-shirt from a friend
  4. Stickers from a co-worker
  5. Notepads, pens, water bottle, lanyard and non-breakable mug from co-worker as well as the same from me from our conference (multiple boxes got these!!)
  6. Homemade craft kits from my stash [ok not “free” but….]
  7. Cosmetic bags (for pencil bags) from co-workers and Sunday School classmates
  8. Two small stuffies from friends
  9. Cool bookmark from an event
  10. Free fire safety coloring book
  11. Shoeboxes from lots of people
  12. Unopened post-its found inside cosmetic bag that no one wanted back
  13. Hot Wheel car left in my car and not wanted back
  14. Unclaimed shirt left at my house (for bigger kid)
  15. Misc hair things left behind by my daughter (unused still on the card)
  16. Cloth wine bottle bag free at garage sale shortened into a pencil bag
  17. Toys from Free box at the thrift store and garage sale–some still in packaging
  18. Sticker sets and games from fast food kids meals at one place I go for lunch–kids meal is enough for me!
  19. Passed-as-new Hot Wheels, dinosaurs and other small toys from a friend’s grandson. [Always inspect them in bright sunlight.]
  20. Office supplies donated by guests at my office who said “throw or donate”. I got them–included 2 sets of 8 markers and 2 sets of 4 markers plus unopened Post-its.

Guess what? This was almost a full box for a 5-9 year old child (going on the t-shirt size). I could then use my gift card From Swagbucks or Ibotta to buy that cool little LEGO set or Barbie doll who swims with the dolphin or whatever for the WOW item and a few other little treats like Hot Wheels or Barbie clothes.

The Result

All of this let me pack 102 well-filled boxes that contain high-quality items kids need and will enjoy. All have school supplies, a full outfit of clothing and underwear, high quality WOW item, a stuffie, and more. Over half of my shoeboxes this year had shoes.

Need an illustration of all this?

Here’s how this videoblogger did a free Toddler-aged box


Christmas Shoe Boxes: How I do it


I love giving a box filled with hope! Children world-wide receive a shoe box packed with surprises and get a chance to learn about hope thru Christ through Operation Christmas Child.

Let’s be clear: No child is taught to hate any other group of people.

This is a child-appropriate program on God’s love and Salvation.

That’s it. A message of hope. A box of hope. A life given hope and changed forever.

How I Do This

Some years, while my children were growing up, I did one or two boxes and that was truly sacrificial giving. Today I can do more and am happy to do so. How do I pack 30 or so boxes? First of all, this is a calling–a labor of love. While I do not track at all what I spend, I do have “price points” I watch for and try not to exceed for most items. Over the years, after adopting my kids, I learned to to stretch money as only a single mother can. I learned to hunt like a truffle-sniffing animal the clearance isles and tiny pockets of clearance goods in all sorts of stores. But I always ask:

Would my child wear this?

I don’t mean “following a horrendous event like a hurricane while shivering naked, would my child be willing to put this on to be warm?” But would they be willing to wear it in real life?



37 pairs of girls’ cuffed socks for $7.00. Boys underpants for 50 cents per pair. A nice fanny pack for $2.00 to pair with a $1 girl’s red polo shirt. 25 cent bandanas? All tings my kids would have accepted (well, maybe not the bandanas–I line girl boxes with them).  I find the “deals” and grab them year-round. After back to school, solid color tees and polos are a big bargain. Walmart had stacks for $1 each. I prefer the polos because they hold up better to washing without a washer and dryer. Tees get so stretched. Why underwear? It’s about dignity. And, for girls, it’s another layer of protection. Sadly, girls are not valued in most of the world. Ad I write this the NYT ran a story this morning on child marriage. Enough said.


How I Keep Track of What is Still Needed



I use my bullet journal to keep track my shoe box inventory. The photos above show my set-up for last year of ALL that is needed so I can shop for bargains and the new page for this year’s item-specific inventory. I do boxes for both boys and girls and all ages, but try to do more older child boxes as the need is greatest there–especially for boys.

How Do I Sort and Store all of it

Sunday afternoon I reorganized to start the “hoarding” for the 2018 collection. I have a set of bookshelves and, thanks to the blogger I’m An Organizing Junkie, I learned “containerizing” to keep things organized.  A label maker and whatever baskets and empty shoe boxes I could spare were all I needed.



On the left is the entire IKEA bookcase. I still use the bottom two shelves for family scrapbooks and photos and misc (like that orange backpack that needs a home). The top shelf has hygiene, a pair of shoes for some future box, pens/pencils and pencil bags. In a later post I will share more on these.

The second shelf from the top is the boy’s shelf, below it the girl’s. There are baskets for shirts, underwear, and socks. Within the baskets–you can see this with socks–I have little children’s sizes and big children’s sizes in separate, labeled, Ziplock bags.

The final shelf [for now] has food/water items, toys, a box of sturdy shopping bags that I sometimes add to big girl boxes, and hair/jewelry items. As the year goes on, the scrapbooks will have to find a new home so I can add baskets for more stuffed animals, dolls and soccer balls.

I sort the items into baskets and keep things like stuffed animals or clothing dust free in grocery bags. As I build boxes I bag them as well. A nice aqua polo for a girl gets paired with an aqua or other coordinating bandana, a few pairs of underpants, socks and some fun things like jewelry. I don’t overdue the hair things because most of the girls in Africa shave their heads for school. But headbands work well with any hair style. Bracelets and earrings, too.



Picture: Water bottles are a great item to pack. And you can put little stuff in them for easier packing.

It’s not too late to pack a shoe box! There is still one month until collection day. Remember, this year neither toothpaste nor candy is allowed due to customs’ regulations in many countries. And, please? Don’t pack deodorant, Kleenex, tampons, wet wipes, q-tips and DO remove all the packaging. The big Rumpke truck doesn’t go to these places. That Barbie box will blow around forever (and Barbie may be maimed or destroyed when someone unfamiliar with draconian American toy packaging tries to rip her from the  box).




Time to Start Packing!


If you read this blog regularly, you know I love to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child! Collection day is about 2 months away! Time to get busy!



I like this program because it brings HOPE. Hope to kids and parents who have little of it. Whether it is in Soweto in South Africa, on a small island in the Philippines, an isolated village Bolivia or in the former Soviet Union–even in refugee camps, children are reached by this program.


Q: But kids get left-out. A: There is a limit to how much ANY program can provide. Boxes must be requested so that host has the right number for the right ages. If a child just shows up, that is unfortunate, but rules are rules. There are many stories of ways local hosts try to help with this. Boxes cannot be divided up between children. Those who give the boxes are guaranteed that their box will go to ONE child. While Operation Christmas Child may add additional items to less-filled boxes, only forbidden items may be removed from a box.

Forbidden items: Candy; toothpaste; used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures; chocolate or food; seeds; fruit rolls or other fruit snacks; drink mixes (powdered or liquid); liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans. Camouflage socks or underpants are ok, but not pants or shirts unless pink. If you look like a soldier when you wear it, do not include it.


Children aged 2–14 are involved. Shoe boxes are packed with a gender and an age range in mind. A child may only receive a box once so that everyone in the area has a chance to participate. While today in the USA many are moving to gender-neutrality with toys and some clothing, it is important to respect the local culture in these areas. Girls should receive clothing and toys traditionally seen as for “girls.”  And boy should receive traditionally “boy” items. I can tell you from my own experience in Malawi, that everyone plays with whatever they have and clothes do get mixed around except for dresses.  One exception to this is a soccer ball. Girls love to play ball games, too, whether soccer or just a made-up game. Pick a girly color so the boys won’t want it.

Boy or Girl ages 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14


Sample box for a boy 5-9 years old.  The shoes are the “wow” item for this box  and the toys are little, but I did a Spiderman theme. Not shown: Soap, toothbrush, comb, composition book (look for the ones with flexible covers). A pencil bag (left) holds plenty of pencils, pens and a small pencil sharpener.

NEW FOR 2017



These changes are due to the maze of customs/import regulations in all the different countries.

And, the suggested donation, to help with shipping costs, is now $9.00 per box. It is suggested–not required. If you pay this online and print the label, you will get an email telling where your box(es) went. Or you can simply put the money in the top of the box (yes, one check can be used for all of your boxes).


What NOT to pack

No matter what others may say, from my experience abroad in Malawi and visiting neighboring countries as well as my time in Ukraine, these are the things I say DON’T PACK:

  • Kleenex
  • Wet Wipes
  • Deodorant (Yes, it’s on the official list–I have no clue why.  No one outside the developed world even knows what it is. And, does your 7 year old use deodorant??)
  • Tampons (Toxic shock syndrome from too few– discreetly pack washable, cotton pads if you want to help with menstrual hygiene. Be sure to include a cloth bag to carry them in, a few pairs of underpants and some Ziplock bags).
  • Stuffed or plastic snakes  Too many taboos. Same with Skull & Cross bones on ANY item. Just don’t.
  • Provocative clothing for girls including more adult styles of underpants. These can help make a girl more sexually attractive. Sadly, girls are sold for money all over the place. Let’s try to help them have a childhood. Stick to traditional, full coverage underpants and plain thick tops. No cut-out shoulders, no shorts with writing on the butt, nothing like that.
  • Boxer shorts. If they have an unsecured fly, sew on a snap. They will most likely be worn as shorts and not as underpants.
  • Flip-flops. Have you ever walked in the rain on an uneven, unpaved surface in flip-flops? Twisted ankle, bleeding feet and the memory of a lifetime for me. The don’t last.

Remember to remove as many tags and as much packaging material as possible. They’ll just become trash and they add to the shipping weight. Most countries do not have organized trash collection. Those price tags will be blowing all around as will the plastic wrapper from the underwear.

Read more about what to pack and what not to pack HERE.

How to start packing?

Well, if you have children start with their closet and bedroom. Is there a shirt they’ve never worn? Half a pack of underwear they hated and that never even got washed? A stuffed animal that’s new and never loved? Grab a shoe box! Now look for a few “new” party favors or Hot Wheels or similar. Fill in the gaps with a new washcloth, toothbrush, hair brush, socks etc. Those receiving blankets or extra baby blankets–great for a 2-4 year old who must sleep with siblings under one blanket.

Sample box for a girl ages 2 to 4. Baby blanket, stuffed animal, dress, underpants, socks, pencils and pens, crayons, pencil bag, hair clips, Stuffed Cinderella [actually a key chain!], coloring book, jump rope, Bible picture book, big shopping bag to carry it home in, a bandana and hygiene items. I shop Clearance for all clothing and any shoes as well as many of the toys. Right after Easter is the best time to get stuffed animals. Tennis balls are popular small items and are very inexpensive when you buy a bag of them at Wal-Mart.



Read more about Operation Christmas Child on their website.


Note: Wal-Mart now carries 10 packs of plastic shoe boxes for under $8.00! Great deal!