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.

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:

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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?

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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.

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Doing a GREAT OCC Shoebox for free or almost free

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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.

 

 

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1. Swagbucks

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  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

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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

 

 

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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.

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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

Shoebox Shopping: Getting started on 2018

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With a family member in the hospital and both of my kids now adults, we voted to “sort of” skip Christmas. We’re having the usual meals for Christmas and a few small gifts only. That’s plenty. So the little I had already put-back for Christmas more than covered it, leaving some left over. So, adding that little stash, to unspent “spending” money for my trip to the OCC Processing Center in Boone and then having a surprise of forgotten Swag Bucks that were credited too late for 2017, I’ve been shoebox shopping!

 

Here are a few photos:

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My goal of 400 pencil pouches is under way! I’ll be making some, and it seems my Mom will be too–yeah! But others will be bought along the way. (If you want to contribute all of these will go to the church I traveled with or to the Processing Center for “filler” and all will have pens, pencils, etc).  I found a forgot Clearance nook and got the bright orange and green ones for 50 cents each. Not a bad price. The other three are brand new thrift-store finds that I got free! (More later)

 

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To help fill all of those pencil bags I hit the jackpot at Office Depot–a deal I’d read about on a shoebox blog–and got 51 bags of blue pens and 3 red for $0.14 each. They gave me the rulers for a penny each since they did not ring up right. The large box of 72 colored pencils were $3 each and will go in big kid boxes. The double-ended markers were $1 and will also be for big kid boxes. Other clearance items were cute stickers–$1 for 3 packs, girls sandals, buy one at $2.50, get on 1/2 off and Michaels marked their plaid metal water bottles down 60%. For that price I can live with not being able to pack anything in them. They are well made and will last.

I also ordered 20 of these for $0.79 each from For Teachers Only .com. The shipping was fast, the order was filed correctly and they are more than adequate–especially for the price. I might end up ordering more. I also got boxes of misprinted pencils and mismatched pens–all a great value.

 

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I have a local Thrift Shop I love, but it is closing. They have almost given me big bags of stuffed animals ($2 a bag). I “re-inspect” them in daylight to be sure they are “new.” Any that aren’t get re-donated. I’ve picked up brand new water bottles there and for a dime or a quarter have gotten new/like new clothing to re-use the fabric for pencil bags, girls’ skirts and other needs.

 

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I’m not a fan of cheap flip-flops having walked 3 miles in the rain in them in Malawi once and been forced to have very cold feet, blisters between my toes and cuts on my feet that took a while to heal! I get it that there are places where they are a good thing–like orphanages with communal shower rooms. This type I have fewer problems with so when I stumbled upon Clearance at the local Family dollar I grabbed all only to smile more when all seven pairs rang up for less than $10! Several will go to the church I traveled with to be help less-filled boxes from their packing party. A few days later I picked up some girls sandals there, too, for the same sort of price.

 

Sorry the Photo Was Awful

 

My clothing stash is about done–I had several t-shirts left from 2017. My goal is that each box have a simple outfit–dress or shirt and skirt for girls and shorts and shirt for boys. As always, I ask myself, “Would I want my kid to wear this?” If the answer is no, I don’t buy it or pack it. Gabe’s (Gabriel Brothers) is a favorite clothing place. Spend a certain amount (I don’t always) and get a coupon for next month. I also get easy-to-pack thin fleece blankets there for $2 as well as inexpensive jewelry for big girls and some filler items. My other clothes haunts are Marshalls/TJ Maxx and Walmart. I don’t like this season’s Target collections for kids much so won’t bother there this time. Kohl’s is another good Clearance source. I don’t do Kohl’s Cash but if you do–don’t let those expire! Use them for nice kids stuff from Clearance.

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Art supplies and toys are improving in this year’s box–the WOW thing I wrote about last week. I found these HUGE boxes of 96 crayons at Target for $3.48 each–one for a boy, one for a girl. The other items are from Target’s dollar bins. Finally! Some cool boy pencils! Some of my toys, ordered with SwagBucks that credited to my account too late for 2017, have started arriving (more later). I’ve also received the 3 clearance soccer balls I ordered. I like to send different ones. I did the bulk thing one year and thought “What if these went to the same village? They’d fight over whose is whose!” [Yes, it is very possible they’d go to the same village. Here’s how: My boxes arrive at the collection point church, are immediately boxed in cartons. Those cartons are opened at the processing center and they are inspected and put into a new carton and shipped. They really could all go to the same place!]

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Oh, and I ordered my actual shoeboxes! I got 40 plastic shoeboxes in a good Walmart deal for $32 (that also earned me Swagbucks for shoebox shopping later), but doubt I can send that many this year, so I have a head start on 2019.

What’s left?

These will be paid for mostly with my small summer check for indexing. It’s a token amount but it does a lot in shoebox terms.

A lot, actually! But happily, there’s almost a year in which to accomplish or find it all!

Dollar Tree:

Soccer Ball Pumps (extra needles from Wal-mart)

Girls Sewing Kits (love these–in a nice vinyl bag)

Pencil Bags

Pretty Pencils for girls

Coloring Books

Bible Story Books

Board Books

Fun little filler items-hair bands, little toys, notepads, whatever

Toothbrushes, hair brushes, combs

Flexible cover composition books

 

Elsewhere:

Water bottles or nice cups with lids (I tend to find these at Marshalls/TJ Maxx clearance)

A few nice big girls’ purses

Pencil bags

Cotton sanitary napkins (Etsy–if I don’t make some)

Scientific calculators–for big kid boxes

Geometry sets–for big kid boxes

Soap/Soap Containers (Kroger with my $2 pharmacy coupon each month)

 

Wal-mart:

Back-to-school sales on school supplies

Clearance on t-shirts, shorts, summer dresses

Bandanas for girl boxes

Other filler items

 

To Make:

Girls skirts as necessary

Pencil bags

Sanitary napkins

Drawstring bags for little stuff

Lessons from OCC’s Boone Processing Center, Part III: “Finding” Money for Shoe Box Packing and Weird Stuff I Found in Boxes

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I was pleased to spend each shift last week inspecting boxes to make sure no forbidden items were included. That was very instructive. I’ve already discussed how I’d undervalued the WOW item and I’ve mentioned that presentation of the gift really does make a difference. Today I’m going to talk first about ways to find money in your budget for shoe box packing. Then I’ll look at the the weird, crazy, useless stuff I found in boxes. Then we’ll look at Fillers.

 

 

New to OCC Shoe Box packing?

First, if you are new to Shoe Box packing, read this post and follow the links in it to the Operation Christmas Child website.

 

Finding Money for Shoe Box Packing

First of all, remember: One well-packed shoe box is a HUGE help. You need not break records for numbers of boxes packed. One box helps. Quality matters.

Three Ways I’m “Finding” Money This Year:

  1. My Swag Bucks Account. I’m not a huge Swag Bucks Points earner. The videos usually result in viruses and I’m not glued to social media to catch all the codes. That really doesn’t matter. I earn swag bucks by doing my Walmart and Old Navy shopping thru them. If I need to order anything else online I check the site first to see if the store participates. I also do the simple daily poll (1 question). I used to do the search but it seems to take ages to earn with that now. There are all kinds of bloggers who can teach you ways to maximize this (or any other system like this). Just Google it. I’m dedicating this to getting some cool toys for WOW items using Amazon Gift cards. Plus Amazon has great “Add on” items in toys as well–if you spend X amount you can add great toy X for $X. That sort of thing. If you are a Prime member (I’m not) there are also super toy deals just for members.
  2. My monthly Kroger Pharmacy $2 coupon. I get one of these on the paperwork that accompanies a monthly prescription. I usually just toss it in with the grocery coupons, but this year I’m using it either for on-sale school supplies or a discount on a better toy, stuffed animal, soap or soap containers (see this post for the type food container I now buy for soap in some boxes).
  3. Canceled Netflix. I’ll buy myself one month to binge a show I like, but that basically pays the suggested $9 donation for 11 boxes.

Other Ways To Find or Save Money for Shoe boxes

  1. The blogs Simply Shoeboxes and Shoebox Shoppers have other tips–CVS points and Walgreens deals and all that sort of thing. Susan at Girls in White Dresses told me that Menards often has tools for older boy boxes (see yesterday’s post) for free or almost free with rebates. Remember to save pads of paper, pens, good sturdy bags, water bottles, free make-up bags and things you receive at conferences or events–they can at least be filer items when needed. Also save extra kids party favors (always, always as “extra” in a box, clothing your kid didn’t want (that is appropriate) and similar.
  2. Hold a garage sale or sell on Ebay or Facebook or Craig’s List and apply your earnings to your shoe box fund.
  3. Ask friends,  co-workers, book club, etc to donate similar items or give you shoe boxes.
  4. Give up your Starbucks or after work beer with the guys or lunch out one day a week and put the money in a jar for shoe boxes.
  5. Make a meatless pancake dinner once a week instead of having fast food and put the money in a jar.
  6. Ask failed home sales people to donate APPROPRIATE Discovery Toys, Thirty-One bags or other appropriate products.
  7. Cancel the gym membership you never use or the over-price cable tv that you don’t need.
  8. Call Flo and see if you can reduce your car insurance.
  9. If money isn’t super tight look at the “You Saved X Much” on your grocery receipt and put that much cash away–you could easily buy in bulk with that!
  10. Transfer a prescription and use the amount saved on shoe box stuff.
  11. Apply all rebates earned to the shoe box fund.
  12. Dump your change in a jar for shoe box stuff–include any found in the washer!
  13. Say no to ridiculous birthday parties, bake a cake mix cake, and have kids bring pencils, sharpeners, crayons and notebooks instead of gifts.
  14. “Charge” admission to New Year’s or Super Bowl or 4th of July or whatever parties to be paid in shoe boxes, kids’s shirts, soap or whatever for shoe boxes.
  15. Sell or use gift cards you don’t want to buy shoe box stuff. Wal-mart buys cards.
  16. Say NO to one kid activity and put the cost in the shoe box fund. Remember to add the cost gas, uniform/shoes, supplies etc savings to the jar as well, if possible.
  17. Earn money doing online surveys and save the money (the blog Money Saving Mom has a list of safe, reputable companies who do this).
  18. Enter blog giveaways and do store surveys from your receipt to win gift cards to sell or use for shoe box supplies. Save any appropriate door prizes you win or, if cash or cards, use/sell for your shoe box fun.
  19. Have deposit on bottles in your state? Paid Recycling? Add that.
  20. Win at the Casino or lottery? Win at Bridge, Euchre or  Mahjongg club? Pay a sin tax into your shoe box fund. Even a $2 pay out on a scratch off will increase the fund!

 

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The Worst Items I Found In Shoe Boxes

  1. Candy-sized balls of homemade soap wrapped like candy. [Thrown away until we each discovered there was a label–it was that small.]
  2. A partial package of kid-sized sack race sacks.
  3. An item that was either a tube top or a very tight infinity scarf.
  4. A used party banner.
  5. A newborn sized Onesie (age 2 is the earliest). I put it in for a new baby.
  6. A lady’s size XL active wear skort. [I’m hoping this was an accident–like maybe she exercised in the shoe box room and hubby was helping wrap up the final boxes and stuffed it in….]
  7. Whoopee Cushion
  8. A dirty fly swatter
  9. Ziplock bag full of gift bag confetti
  10. Poo Emoji item [Some cultures have strict rules about “poo” and would not be amused at all]
  11. Three printed paper napkins of dubious vintage
  12. A tube-top style ladies top with one shoulder strap
  13. Box consuming, chunky hand knit winter scarves****
  14. Huge packs of bar soap**** (2 kids got boxes with barely more than a 6 pack of soap!)
  15. Swim goggles****
  16. Very used shoes (more in another post)
  17. Multiple packages of Band Aids****
  18. A box of just Happy Meal Toys****
  19. Wet Wipes
  20. Deodorant
  21. Kleenex
  22. Bath poof-scrubbies (which DO make fun toys, but have you tried to use one with BAR SOAP??) No one would associate them with bathing. Maybe with scrubbing pans.

The scarves might be nice in Siberia or in an European refugee camp, but please wrap them tightly in Saran Wrap or stuff them into a Ziplock bag and suck the air out thru a straw. No one really wants just a scarf. A few that I saw were HUGE. Swim goggles? Really? They may not have enough water locally to bathe daily. No one is in danger of chlorine irritating their eyes. First World Item. Leave it at home. I don’t care if they were two pairs for a 25 cents. Happy Meal toys–sigh. ONE is plenty. More than one in a box ONLY if they are a set. Remove the packaging.  I’ll have more to say on these soon.

Please–hygiene items ARE very important. But send extra toothbrushes, not six bars of Zest! One, at most two, bars of soap is enough. A couple of Band-aides are fine, but give whole boxes of Band-Aides to medical missions. Most kids won’t know what they are.

PLEASE STOP SENDING KLEENEX, WET WIPES AND DEODORANT!!!

These are the Holy Trinity of  First World Items and their use cannot be sustained. Plus all create trash which has nowhere to go. I cannot believe they are even suggested. Deodorant contains dangerous chemicals if a toddler eats it. Does your 3 year old wear it? I found some in a 2-4 year old box and several in age 5-9 year olds’ boxes. 14 year-olds in Burkina Faso or Suriname don’t use it. All three of these products are best  donated to local food pantries, homeless shelters and/or domestic disaster relief.

Whenever possible REMOVE ALL PACKAGING

Do you want a child’s joy destroyed by maiming Barbie trying to yank her out of our absurd packaging? There is no garbage truck coming around to take this junk away. It also costs a lot of extra money to ship it. Remove it unless it provides storage for the product–a crayon box is a good example. Remember, you are not mailing these personally, so you are not subject to the whims of an individual customs examiner wanting to extort import duties! Packaging just adds expense to the shipping. If you are worried of it breaking (it won’t if it isn’t crap) then wrap it in a clothing item or washcloth or pack it in a storage container that can be reused. A well-packed box is too full for things to break!

 

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Lessons from OCC’s Boone Processing Center, Part II: Good Ideas

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Ha! I’m an “Inappropriate Item.” [Which means things that cannot go in a shoe box.]

Today I’m sharing about a few things I found to love–some in actual shoeboxes, one in a Facebook post I found after a shift working at the Processing Center. I hope to use these ideas in a few boxes this year.

 

 

 

Geometry Sets

 

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Just before leaving I read that some countries require these for upper-level students. Given how expensive imported items can be, I thought I’d try to include a set in each 10-14 year old’s box this year. I saw several of these come thru my line and loved them. With a nice protective case they just might survive to be handed down from sibling to sibling and see an entire family thru those years of school. Many stores sell packages with these tools, but no case. Those kits at back to school could be slipped into a pencil bag just as nicely. Some countries also want an appropriate calculator. I will be investigating this and buying some appropriate ones at back to school sales. Meanwhile, you can buy the tool kit at Amazon or similar ones at back-to-school at Office Depot [kit link] and similar stores. Walmart has a 10-pack of these for a very reasonable price–under $30.

 

Tool Kit for Boys

 

 

 

The box on the left came thru my line. I loved that it include a heavy TARP. This could truly save a family in the rainy season in many countries. Corrugated roofing is expensive, but a heavy tarp held in place with bricks of rocks will keep the house dry. This box also include a box of different sized washers, screws, nails, etc–not a “picture hanging kit,” but really useful sized ones.  Even though the presentation of the gift was pretty sad looking, the box held a wealth of things. Crayons, colored pencils, routine school supplies and hygiene items were also in there. Another box held the tool box shown above from Dollar Tree and a nice selection of their inexpensive tools, bungie cords, school supplies, rope and other items. Yes, it fit in a shoebox! Another great item to include is a tool belt or nail apron like the white one from Walmart. Walmart also has a low cost tool bag. Here is a video on making a sturdy denim tool belt from old jeans.

 

 

My Personal Mission This Year

 

 

 

 

The thing that upset me most was the number of boxes that just had pens and pencils rolling around in them. I always include a pencil bag in all my boxes. Yes, even for the 2-4 age group.  That way when they start school they have one–or a sibling may have it. Happily, we had as filler some bulky, padded drawstring bags that were probably meant for phones or tablets that I used in some boxes to corral the mess. Presentation matters in giving a gift, but more importantly, these kids usually have to take their school supplies back and forth to school each day. The do not often have a secure building, let alone a private desk, in which to leave them.

So….this year my goal is 400 pencil cases beyond those for my boxes. I want to supply every box that doesn’t have one at the packing party held by my travel buddies church this year! I will be making some, begging for some and buying some.  I’m really hoping some of you reading this will make or buy some for your boxes, your packing party or to send to an OCC Processing Center for filler. Here are a number of samples that you can buy or make. They can be very simple drawstring bags or far more elaborate creations. Even a ziplock bag will help, but something nice looking helps. The instructions for those to make are all on my Pinterst OCC Shoe Box Board.

 

I hope these ideas inspire you to try adding a few new things this year!

What I learned volunteering at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center in Boone, North Carolina Part I

 

Last week I traveled with a friend and her former church’s OCC Shoe Box team to volunteer at the Boone, North Carolina shoe box Processing Center. We were an awesome team!  I loved the servant’s hearts each person had and that everyone made me–a total stranger to all but one person–completely welcome. We stayed in a rented vacation home that easily accommodated all of us. Each day we went off to the Processing Center and manned an inspection and boxing line. It was a blast! I was thrilled that they let me inspect boxes every day–it was so cool! I got to experience each box I touched as though I was the receiving child. That was VERY instructive!

Lesson Learned #1: The WOW item matters!

OCC asks that each box have a “Wow” item that will immediately appeal to the child. It is most often a toy, doll or soccer ball, but could also be a lovely purse for an older girl or a tool box for an older boy or a nice pair of shoes for any age. What matters is that it is easily the very 1st thing they see!

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Unfortunately, my phone DIED the day we arrived, so I have only photos taken by others on the team. Above is a box I packed that I’ll use to illustrate the WOW! factor. This 5 to 9 year old boy will open his box and instantly see this nice soccer ball with its pump. WOW! Get it? Don’t skip this. Put less in the box if you have to, but do NOT skip the WOW! I have been seriously underestimating its importance!

Lesson # 2: Quality Over Quantity

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The need is really great for boxes and they bring not only stuff, but HOPE. Most of the children receiving these boxes live on the edge of homelessness and and even starvation, so HOPE is very, very needed. Later this week I’ll be talking more about some commonly packed items, but for now I will say choose WISELY.  Better quality makes a nicer gift. Many of the boxes I processed had the foul smell of stone-cold, workhouse charity. Others, though meager, clearly showed the true sacrificial giving of the “widow’s mite.” [See Luke 21:1-4]. We want that hope to come wrapped in love. The box should show that it truly is a gift–God’s provision and the love of a member of Christ’s own family. Many churches have a very incorrect vision of what the Processing Center’s “filler items” are.  Don’t send nearly empty boxes. Just don’t. I’ll discuss this more later in the week.

 

Lesson #3: A Note and a Photo

I do pray for every child who receives my boxes and I pray in other ways for the program and the children, but I do not include a photo or a note. This year I will include a short, generic note. Since I concluded my Peace Corps service in Malawi over 25 years ago and still get an occasional letter at a friend’s house (where I lived briefly after my service) I no longer give my address out in the so-called 3rd world. I can’t solve the problems. I can give to charities that can, however, so that is my response to the letters. I don’t want more letters.

But over and over I have heard and read how much the recipients enjoyed reading the letters and even put up the photos on their wall. Many even consider this the most treasured item in their box. So, you might want to consider a first names only letter and photo.

 

Lesson #4: The Box

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I found out the great thing about these little red and green gems–23 of them go in one carton–allowing a uniform number in each carton. ANY shoe box is acceptable, but PLEASE–shoe box means just that: SHOE box–not BOOT box. They do take those boot boxes and ship them, but yikes! what a cost! And at the other end there may be a carton that does not deliver enough boxes.

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The pre-printed red and green cardboard boxes are a big cost savings over buying plastic ones — 100 for $22. Operation Christmas Child also sells plastic red and green logo-ed  boxes that result in a uniform number per carton as well.  A dozen of these cost $18. The plastic boxes I like to send result in a similar amount of boxes per carton and have just a bit more space. Do NOT buy the cheap plastic boxes at Dollar Tree!!! Later this week, I will focus on the many GREAT items at Dollar Tree, but sadly, their plastic shoe boxes are awful. There was another type plastic box that has latches on each end that stick out–skip those, too.  You can’t pack very many in a carton.

 

Lesson # 5: They Pray!

We really did stop work at various times to have devotions, here a shoe box recipient’s story and PRAY! We prayed for the child receiving the box and that he or she receive exactly the right box. Around the Center there were boxes to put in prayer requests–the permanent staff of Operation Christmas Child prays over these.

 

Lesson #6: It is Super Fun to Volunteer at a Processing Center

 

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It can be a challenge to get a reservation to volunteer, but don’t give up! Call back later on and see who has cancelled or cancelled a few spots. Later this week I will show you more of what we did.

 

Have you volunteered at an OCC Processing Center? If so, leave me a comment with your lessons learned.

How Can I Get Started Packing Christmas Shoe Boxes?

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This week, thru Monday, is National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. If you’ve been reading here, or if you found this post thru a Google search, and are interested in packing shoe boxes for next year, here is some advice on how to get started.

 

 

Educate Yourself and Examine Your Heart

I love doing this and recommend the program highly. There are bloggers who complain about it though as well as those who love it. To that end, in this post I’ve tried to answer those complaints. First thoough take time and read Operation Christmas Child website and that of its parent organization Samaritan’s Purse. Both do tremendous good in the world.

After that examine your heart. Is this a program you fully support? If you are not a Christian, have you ever taken time to understand what Christians believe? If not, I suggest you start here:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 NIV

This is what they all believe–Nazrenes, Methodists, Church of God, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Free Methodists, Non-Denominational “Christians”–they all believe this.

If, regardless of what you think of the Bible verse–the cornerstone verse of Christianity–you want to move forward in packing boxes then welcome! And, if it’s not for you, I still welcome you. Honestly is always welcome and needed in our world today.

Next, if you are willing, PRAY. Pray that your actions will bless the children and bring hope and bring them to know Christ. If that’s too much, too soon, then can you pray for God’s will to be done with this shoe box? Can you pray just “God bless the child who receives this?” Good. If you aren’t there yet, I understand.

If you are a Christian, did you know you can donate $6 additional dollars per box and cover the FULL cost of the Greatest Journey Discipleship program for your recipient child? Select the additional donation when you pay your shipping/handling fee online.

Plan Your Year

Whether you want to pack one box or one hundred, using the year-round shopping approach is a great way to spread out the cost and …. the fun!

Here is the official Year-Round Packing Plan page. You can also download a Packing Calendar here.  I follow this somewhat. I’ve learned that the day after Valentine’s Day and the day after Easter are great times to stock up on stuffed animals–all will be marked 50–80% off. End of season clearance racks provide nice, fashionable clothing at very reasonable prices. Buy one, get one deals on toothbrushes and bar soap help too! This becomes fun and addictive–like a treasure hunt! Here is a link to my post on how I do this–don’t worry, you don’t need to even think of doing it on my scale! 1 box is a blessing.

What Else Can I do?

Get your children involved! While a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy should NEVER be the so-called “Wow” item in a box (the thing the child will be most excited about) they are nice “extras” as are party favors. Have your children save those. Did the dentist hand out toothbrushes or floss? Save them and buy some for your kids instead. Remember to save pens and pencils from conferences or promotions.  This post lists other items that can be appropriate from such events. Your kids can also write notes to put in the boxes, decorate the boxes themselves and, of course, PRAY.

Do you love to do crafts? I have a Pinterest board of crafts that would be WELCOME by most shoe box recipients.  Remember, though, that to very, very poor people a store-bought gift can mean more. They “make do” with homemade things all the time. So choose crafts wisely. In my opinion child-made crafts, unless done to an adult standard, are not appropriate. If it is a game or homemade craft kit, include photo directions. If you go to Church or to a craft club, get others involved!

Raise Money! Each box has a SUGGESTED $9 shipping/handling fee. Remember–international shipping is hugely expensive!!! Pay online and you find out where you box ended up!  Set up a jar to dump change in. Give up $9 of Starbucks or movie tickets or _______ [whatever] per month and put that money in the jar so there are no surprises in November–that will give you s/h for 12 boxes!! Are you having a New Year’s  or Super Bowl Party? Charge a $1 entry fee or have people bring a small item–suggestions are packages of pens and pencils or crayons,  water bottles, hats/gloves, etc. Explain in the invitation where the money or stuff will go. You might be surprised how much you raise!

Have a family or neighborhood packing party on Halloween instead of or after Trick-or-Treating.  Here’s how link. You can order logo-ed boxes or ask at shoe stores or big box stores for unwanted shoe boxes. Walmart has packs of 10 plastic shoe boxes at a big discount. Hobby Lobby sells logo-ed plastic shoe boxes. This post has a great list of my own “what not to pack” items and this post shows how to appropriately re-gift brand new items you may already have.  Almost any Mom will have that shirt the kid hated, but which any other kid would wear or those socks that matched nothing–you get the idea. “Harvest Your House” first!

Pray

Yes, I’ve intentionally repeated this one! Pray for God to guide your efforts, to bless the child who will receive the box and for those who may be considering packing a box or even considering becoming a Christian thru this ministry! Here are my posts on the Children I  Think of when I pack these boxes–Children In Malawi and Children in Ukraine/Russia.

 

It’s National Shoe Box Collection Week!

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It’s finally here! Nation Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child’s Shoe Boxes!! I’ve got 31 boxes ready to go this weekend! I LOVE doing this–it brings HOPE. Yes, it is evangelism. But it is a story of HOPE. It does not teach hate. It gives hope. How do I know? My child received such a box in an orphanage in the former Soviet Union many years ago. That’s why I do this!

 

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One of the things I enjoy most about this project is seeing what other’s pack in their shoe boxes–I often get great tips that I incorporate into future shoe boxes. One tip I’ve  used for years now is to line boxes with a pretty bandana–I now do this for all my girl boxes, trying, whenever possible, to have the bandana and the clothing items match. Next year, I’ve got a new tip to try from my friend Linda at the blog Filled With Laughter

 

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See that bar of soap in the food container? Wow! Super cool and super cost-effective soap box! You can even collect these “free” if you buy a certain brand of lunch meat! I love that the container sits “flat” and is stable. Too often those hinged-lid soap boxes won’t sit flat and that can be annoying if you are washing in primitive conditions. And, depending upon your selections, both the soap and the wash cloth may fit in there. Great tip, Linda!

Here are some photos of this year’s boxes. Thank you to Gideon and Mollie and Mom Melisa at the blog I Will Lift Up and to author Susan Barnett Braun at Girls In White Dresses for sharing photos of some of their boxes. This is a GREAT project for familes–look at some of the the great things Gideon and Mollie helped pack:

 

 

What boy wouldn’t love a cool Lego set?? And a fashionably dressed Barbie for a little girl? I love all the practical things they chose as well.  Best of all, I know these two took even more care in praying over their boxes than they did choosing the contents. Well done, kiddos!

Theme boxes can be a fun way to show a child your love and to have fun doing so. I happen to know that Linda and her hubby are HUGE Reds fans, so I love that they are sharing this love with a shoe box recipient!

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See how easy it is to “theme”? Some composition books, a t-shirt and a water bottle. I love that she carried the Reds theme thru with a red Recorder to play and red/black socks, baseballs and even a red balloon! Well done, Linda!

This year I forgot to keep an exact list of what was packed. Here’s a summary of sorts from memory:

Every box–all 31–got shirt or dress, underpants, pencils/pens/sharpener/bag, toothbrush and wash cloth. There were 4 lightweight fleece blankets suitable for up to age 14 and 2 baby-toddler sized blankets. Numerous water bottles or cups. Older child boxes (over age 4) received a composition book. Several sets of colored pencils. Numerous stuffed animals. 9 soccer balls with pumps–some to both boys and girls and all ages. Hot Wheels cars. 1 Barbie doll. 4 pairs of shoes. Numerous pairs of socks. Every girl box got a bandana and the middle and youngest aged girls got jump ropes. Little children’s boxes had coloring books and crayons. There were 4 Bible board books. Little children each received a toddler sized bowl, cup and silverware–all sturdy (not disposable) plastic. 4 light backpacks.  Several children’s puzzles. A bar of soap is in every box that with room enough left in it.

 

Here are some of the shoe boxes my friends and I have packed this year.

 

 

Want to know where your box(es) end up? Pay your suggested $9 shipping fee online HERE, print you label and, once your box(es) is delivered you will receive an e-mail telling you it’s country of destination.

You forgot? Just learned of Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes? Don’t worry! Not only do you still have thru November 20th to pack and drop off a box(es), but you can also create a box online, or, if you don’t mind paying the shipping, you can ship your box(es) to a processing center. Here are the links you need: [click the linked text to go directly to the page]

Operation Christmas Child home page

Find a local drop-off location

Pack a box(es) online

To Mail a shoe box:

[This option is available year-round]

Operation Christmas Child

801 Bamboo Road

Boone, NC 28607

 

If you are new to Operation Christmas Child’s shoe box gifts, take a little time and explore their web page and take time to read some of my posts on the program, especially if you’ve never been outside the U.S.A.   Pack This, Not That is a good place to start.

 

Remember, please, please, remember: Don’t pack things that may sexualize young girls! What we think of as cute can be very provocative elsewhere. Keep to traditional styles and fit for clothes–especially underpants. And, if packing menstrual hygiene kits, be DISCREET. No one anywhere dreams of opening a pack of Kotex in front of others! Even a pretty, cloth kit can cause shame and embarrassment. Put such items in the bottom and never send tampons.

 

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OCC Shoebox Packing: Pack THIS, not THAT

 

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I wish I had photos for all of these, but I simply do not! I’ve lived in Malawi and spent extended time in Ukraine (actually where I was is part of Russia now). My education, travel and Peace Corps training taught me a few things about cultural sensitivity. Here is my extended list of what to pack– and what not to pack.

No matter what have the WOW item. If that’s all you can do, then that’s great. A “Wow” item is a decent sized doll or stuffed animal or a soccer ball with pump or a bigger-sized toy car or something like that. Every kid doesn’t dream of a soccer ball but they are a good go-to item. Keep to traditional gender stereo-types though. The local culture dictates what kids can have and be–not American P.C. thought.

Just No

  • Deodorant
  • Kleenex
  • Wet-Wipes
  • Q-Tips
  • Tampons
  • Toilet paper
  • Crafts that your kids wouldn’t want
  • Things that look super homemade
  • Left over t-shirts or “stuff” from events [see below]
  • Left over soccer uniforms or other sports uniforms
  • Anything with a snake or skull & bones
  • Toy snakes or any kind
  • Those stupid golf tee games on a triangle of wood
  • Anything Poo-emoji
  • Stuffed animals that make noise or light up
  • Girls shirts meant to be layered–they won’t be
  • Boxer shorts with an unsecured fly. They will be shorts. Sew on a snap.
  • Anything that makes a girl “sexy”–girls are sold. Childhood is often ugly. Help her don’t hurt her. Plain “girl” underpants–nothing more grown up. No cut-outs. No tacky. They can up her street value.
  • American-themed items
  • St. Patrick’s Day and other holiday t-s or other items (see below)
  • Fast Food kids cups or birthday cups [I can “give in” on this one–better than none, but not very durable]
  • Fast Food toys–unless they are just “extra” in the box
  • Party Favors–unless they are just “extra” in the box
  • Toy Food
  • SEEDS [there are very strict laws on importing seeds do to plant diseases!]
  • Silly putty or similar–no one knows what this is and may eat it.
  • A cut-in-half Composition Book [too cheap for words]
  • Used items
  • Anything on this list.

Exceptions to Left-over Event or Holiday Merchandise

  • Sturdy drawstring backpacks or tote bags from events or advertising. [not the super thin ones]
  • Good quality water bottles from events or advertising.
  • Pencils and pens or notebooks from events or advertising.
  • Holiday socks if not too garish and no skull & crossbones, witches, spiders, snakes.
  • Lanyards, carabiner clips, Slinkys, nice toys or stuffed animals (can you remove the “ad”?) if EXTRA in the box–never the WOW.
  • Hand tools, sewing kits other similar
  • Good quality winter head bands or hats [not Dollar Store quality]
  • Golf tournament hand towel with small logo
  • Cosmetic company bonus bag–makes a great girls pencil bag.

 

What Can I Re-Gift from my kids’ room?

  • Any clothing that is deemed acceptable that has never been worn or washed is fine to me.
  • Toys that have never been played with or stuffed animals that went unloved are fine.
  • Duplicate small Lego sets or Polly Pocket-type sets (these can be repacked with the picture from the box in a Ziplock like a puzzle). Duplicate Matchbox or Hot Wheels that are new.
  • Shoes worn once or twice that they didn’t like at all used can been cleaned to look brand new are fine to me. These are not “used.”
  • Duplicate wordless board books in excellent condition.
  • Never-used baby blankets–fine for toddler boxes.

If THIS send THIS also

  • If sending ART SUPPLIES, send PAPER (it can be so expensive it’s sold by the page)
  • If sending anything needing batteries, send plenty of extras
  • If sending PENCILS, send extra ERASERS and a small SHARPENER. Students in many countries must use pens. Mistakes are not “good” so they do their work in ink.
  • If sending menstrual hygiene kits send extra soap, extra Ziplock bags and send this DISCREETLY in the bottom of the box. (Would your daughter want to open a gift of Kotex pads in front of people?).

 

My list of the Best Stuff to Pack In Any Age/Sex Box

  • Water Bottle
  • Flexible plastic cover Composition Book
  • Pencil bag and pencils, sharpener and pens
  • Woven or polo shirt [these are “best” because few if any will be washed in a machine and dried in a machine. Cheap t-shirts stretch out of shape easily).
  • Underpants. Underpants protect girls with one more layer and they give everyone dignity.

 

Good stuff for Ages 2–4

  • Baby blanket. They do not sleep in cribs and sharing a blanket gets old.
  • Toddler sized bowl, cup and silverware. This helps ensure a real serving of food for a small child who may instead be fed from mother’s plate or an older siblings bowl.
  • Wordless board book.
  • Very simple coloring book and crayons.
  • Don’t overdue the hair clips, bands, etc for girls. Nearly all of Africa shaves their head! Boys and Girls–especially as children.

 

Good Stuff Ages 5–9

  • Active toys like jump ropes and balls
  • Drawing paper and crayons or colored pencil
  • Puzzles (cut out the picture and put it all in a Ziplock

 

 

Good Stuff Ages 10–14

 

  • Simple tools or sewing kits
  • Solar calculators
  • Cotton Menstrual hygiene kits [packed at the bottom of the box]
  • Light weight fleece blanket

 

Remember that cultural taboos can be very real. Few parents in America want anything with the Poo emoji–some cultures dictate a hand to eat with and a hand for…well…the poo! Animals can have taboos as well. A stuffed animal that lights up or makes noise could terrify a little child. Sharing blankets and co-sleeping is romantic only when its a choice. As puberty begins separate is best.

Homemade is insulting in some circumstances. These boxes are sent from the wealthiest nations on Earth to the poorest. Just because you love making a craft doesn’t mean the recipient will like it or even know what it is! Getting something brand new and from the store MATTERS. They make do and make things all the time. They have to. Getting “junk” is what they see when they get many craft projects. An example I saw that left me appalled–a Youth Group had “destroyed” [to the local population] beautiful white sneakers by “coloring” them with Sharpies. This would most likely be insulting. They looked homemade and frankly….tacky.  Most kids’ “no sew” crafts are not going to be appreciated for the same reason.

If you want kids to learn to serve have them decorate the boxes and write notes or help at a packing party. Kids MAY also donate never-worn acceptable shirts or may re-gift a never used acceptable toy or collect party favors or Fast Food toys for EXTRA in a box. Children old enough to learn to sew or make paracord lanyards, or friendship bracelets or wooden toys or other things at an adult standard should definitely be encouraged to do so. Kids can also do things to raise awareness of the program like these rocks! [They do not need to be this fancy].

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Photo: Operation Christmas Child

 

Some of the homemade toys are not understandable outside of the USA. Put in a photo “instructions.”  Recycled t-shirt tote bags or jump ropes or many other recycled or up-cycle gifts are another thing that can be taken wrong–that the sort of thing they use of necessity not because it’s fashionable to recycle.

If you want to craft look at the many ideas in my Pinterest board below. These are certainly NOT all the “good” crafts. Bags and dresses or skirts or shorts are great sewing projects. Warm hats or mittens in normal colors or washcloths are super items to crochet. Pencil bags are another excellent crochet item as are soap “covers.”  Wooden cars are a great toy to put in! They’re durable and run well across unpaved surfaces.

There are GREAT ideas for using the lid of the box as a toy–such as race track for Hot Wheels or making a very simple doll house of Foosball game from the box. Always include a PHOTO so they know what it is!

Last of all, remove as much packaging as possible. It will just float around the area as trash. Remember, too, that American packaging is horrendous if you don’t understand it. Want a child to have a headless Barbie from ripping her out of the packaging (well, trying to!)