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, I read they must pay–that’s not fair. A: Yes, the hosting program must pay a small fee to help with transportation. This is important. Any time a program seeks to do good without investment from the community it pretty much fails. Without rules, a distribution of gifts would be a free-for-all and many would be hurt emotionally and possibly even physically.

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!



Using a Bullet Journal for OCC Shoebox Organization


You all know I’m a big fan of packing Christmas shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. You can read previous posts on this subject here, herehere, here, here and here.

I’m off to a good start this year by using my new bullet journal pages to track what I need and what I already have. Yes, I’ve taken to carrying one journal with me, but still use the system I outlined here for my journaling. This one I carry with me is like a note pad to jot things down to remember.

RULE CHANGE for 2017:




I try to pack every box with a Malawian village child or a former USSR-country orphan in mind. It’s up to the God where the boxes go, but that’s how I choose to shop. I track my boxes and was pleased to see my prayers, while not answered EXACTLY by country, at least they went to areas with the same sort of needs. The two cold weather boxes I packed went to a country with mountains and cold nights, so someone is sleeping in nice warm pajamas this year!

To me this is a personal mission for both me and the recipient. I bargain shop like a maniac, but I always stop and ask myself: “Would I have been willing to buy this for [my kids]?” Note, I don’t ask “Would they have begged for it?” Unlike many today I almost never took my kids shopping with me for clothes.  I know I could fund many more shoeboxes buying wholesale lots of the same thing–and there is a great need for that–but I enjoy doing as many “personalized” boxes as I can. It feels more like giving a real Christmas gift then. I always color-coordinate the bandana and hair accessories to the top I send in a girl’s box. Regardless of age or gender, every box gets a covered cup with a straw or a water bottle. Clean water must be kept clean!

Some of my recent bargains for 2017 Shoeboxes:




  1. Soccer/basketball pumps for $1 each at Dollar Tree
  2. $1 knit dress, brand new!! at Wal-Mart
  3. 2 pairs of cute girls shoes for $1 and $2
  4. 1 free tote bag of good material with cute graphic [Thanks My son was THRILLED that I got him a shirt from there and gave me the tote bag for a shoebox]
  5. Brand new Chaps shirt for an older boy $3
  6. Valentine’s bandanas with no words just cute colors and a few hearts $0.10 at Wal-Mart
  7. I found the Barbie for under $3 at my Kroger


I decided to do an on-going inventory page(s) in my journal so I could better picture what I had better and to curb impulse purchases. I also had a stash of these blue baskets (below) and, amazingly, created an almost empty bookcase so I am working on a “packing station” that I will show in a later post.



Things never to bother buying:

Kleenex. This baffles me. Do Americans really think everyone knows what this is? It will become, at best, toilet paper (nice, but they “work around” this problem all the time) and people blow their noses everywhere in the world.What a waste of box space! Ok?

Deodorant: Ultimate first-world product. Not sustainable in use. Becomes trash. Just no. It is only used in the first-world. Skip it.

Tampons: Culturally inappropriate in many societies due to virginity taboos. Also, having an insufficient supply means over-use and that can lead to Toxic Shock. If you only have one tampon for several days…… [Same is true in donating to Women’s Shelters]. Remember, when packing sanitary products do so DISCREETLY. How would your daughter feel about unwrapping a bag of Kotex on Christmas morning? Cloth pads can easily be made or bought on Etsy for reasonable pries (I buy them) but make sure they are dark colors and in a dark cloth bag. Include a few Ziplock freezer bags for soaking and carrying used pads home from school.


RULE CHANGE for 2017:



New to OCC Shoeboxes? Read How to Pack A Box

Have you started shopping for your Shoeboxes? Do you only do items you get free? Do you make anything to go in boxes? Leave me a comment–I love to hear what others do for this super cause!






Note: You are entirely free to like or dislike anything, but negative comments on the organization profiled here will be deleted. This is not a forum for discussing religious differences or disagreement. Thank you.

Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box Virtual Packing Party 2016

Party on!



I hope you’re ready for the party today!! A party of HOPE! A party of LOVE! A shoebox packing party for Operation Christmas Child. The kids who receive these boxes do so once in a lifetime. The materials they receive help them feel God’s love, feel the world’s care and concern, and to feel confident in their own abilities. The gifts help them to stay in school and to have the confidence that God made them to lead a purposeful and satisfying life–where ever they may live.



  • This year I packed 26 shoeboxes–some for every age. They include:
  • 9 soccer balls
  • 25 shirts, 5 shorts, 1 dress, 1 nightgown, 1 pair pajamas
  • 5 fleece blankets
  • 6 pairs of shoes
  • 20 cups or water bottles of various kinds
  • 26 washcloths
  • 14 Hot Wheels cars
  • 7 dolls of various kinds
  • 6 rubber balls
  • 8 checker games
  • 13 bandanas
  • 20 pairs of socks of various kinds
  • 3 board books
  • 26 age-appropriate toothbrushes
  • 30 pairs of underpants
  • 1 cloth menstrual hygiene kit in pretty pouch with Ziplock bag
  • Two sports bras
  • Several small stuffed animals
  • 26 pencil bags with a good assortment of  pens, pencils and sharpener
  • And all sorts of other good things

While I did find great boys shirts at Wal-Mart for $2 each, most clothing came from Gabriel Brothers and TJ Maxx/Marshalls, all of whom have awesome clearance on very nice quality clothing. Other items were free–items I KNEW were never worn and mostly still had the original tags on from my daughter or her friends and one super-nice Hannah Anderson shirt had for a dollar at the Salvation Army–original fold lines and tag attached! In that state I consider things “new.”

The box with the blue and white soccer ball was inspired by another blogger (I wish I could find her post & link to it!). She created a box for a girl like she had been at that age. I loved that. So that girl got a covered cup with a Biblical message, grown-up coloring books and a good set of colored pencils, a soccer ball, an not-girly shirt,  paracord crafting kit with printed picture instructions, a nice cross (it’s a Christmas ornament) a calendar and three nice journals. I know God knows the girl who needs this box. Savings Tip: Buy soccer balls in bulk online with pumps. Much cheaper! But this one, and a few others, were on clearance after soccer season for excellent prices.


2015 Packing Day                    Leftovers that started 2016 Packing

Note: I ended up donating the bag with the American flag to a local charity.


Click on the Mr. Linky link below and link-up your shoebox packing party pictures. It’s ok, if you just packed alone. It’s ok if you did only one box–or did one box with several friends. Quantity is needed, but like the widow’s mite, one box is one more child who receives HOPE and LOVE. One more parent or set of parents who see needs met–by total strangers who happen to believe love, faith and hope are blessings.



Started shopping for 2017. How cute are those bags? 2/$2! And a brand of men’s socks my sock-destroying son can’t destroy–6/$3. Both from Marshalls.


This post will stay at the top of my post list all of next week. Feel free to link to it–or to other posts on Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes that I’ve published this year or last year–with appropriate acknowledgment.


Here are shoeboxes a friend’s family packed. Thank you Hills family!



No blog? No problem! Email me and I’ll add your photos with the correct acknowledgement to this post–that’s partly why it’s staying up all week!


Linda at Filled With Laughter sent me these photos of her great boxes–3 for boys, 3 for girls





And my boxes will soon be on their way to the processing center!


Thank you to Sardinia Church of Christ for being a drop-off point!



A New Tradition for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve

The Need is Great

In many, if not all, African Countries–and I imagine other poor countries, too, children often must sleep naked. Why? Because good mothers wash their children’s clothing to be fresh and dry in the morning and most children have only one set of clothing–if that. But in parts of Southern Africa, night-time and pre-dawn temperatures can be as low as the 40’s (Fahrenheit).

In the former Soviet Union, children in state orphanages may sleep on beds, but the mattresses may be filthy from years of children wetting the bed. They may have no sheets, no pillows and only a tiny blanket. They may also have to sleep in underwear or their day clothes.

Also in the former USSR countries, even children in loving, caring homes, may be forced to sleep in freezing cold apartments. Heat is a function of the government who owns the apartment buildings. International politics can mean heating oil supplies are shut off, as can foreign currency prices.


Photo: Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan’s Purse

A New Tradition

This year, why not start a new tradition. Start by wrapping some shoe boxes with Christmas paper (wrap the lid separately). Cut back your Christmas spending on your own family just a little and fill a few shoeboxes “ahead” for next year. Then when it’s hot and steamy in July, have Christmas again. Why two Christmases? You can save a ton of money, but do a really good deed!! Shop for cold weather clothing at Christmas mega-sales or after-Christmas clearance sales. Then in July do the same for hot weather clothes.

This month and next month, while you shop for stocking-stuffers for the children in your family, buy an extra for your shoebox(es). When you do back-to-school shopping and buy on-sale mega-packs of underwear and socks, take out a pair or two for your shoeboxes. With what your child already owns, they won’t be missed–but the children receiving them in a shoebox will be so happy to receive them. Signing the kids up for soccer? Pick up another ball while they’re cheap! Remember to buy a pump! See? Easy!


Photo: Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan’s Purse


Share the Joy

Having a big family Thanksgiving or Christmas party? Ask folks to bring things for shoeboxes or just bring the shoe box itself! Here’s a list of What To Pack to help you advise your guests on what to bring. If you must have your Thanksgiving a week early, you can then drop the boxes off at a collection location (with the suggested $7 donation inside–or pay online and print a label. Paying online gets you a card saying where your box went!) Take pictures to share. Tweet or Instagram #ipackedashoebox





Here are items I feel are totally acceptable to re-gift into a shoebox:

  1. Water bottles (as long as any wording or logos are not offensive) Clean Water is HUGE need.
  2. Drawstring backpacks (same rule on wording or logo but no  camouflage or military).
  3. Rejected clothing: Examples–you buy your little Princess a pack of undies, but after wearing the first pair she refuses to wear the others because the elastic is too tight. A polo shirt you bought your munchkin but the sleeves have tight cuffs and he hates tight cuffs. A dress suitable for play that was never worn because the 12 great-aunts bought her 37 sundresses. That pair of socks in the bag that goes with nothing. You get the idea.
  4. Small stuffed animals that never got named or loved, but are clean and fresh.
  5. Ninth identical Hot Wheels or Matchbox car.
  6. Extra party favors (these should be EXTRA in the box, too–never the “Wow” item).
  7. The wrong school supplies. No pink folders allowed? Into a girl’s shoebox.
  8. Warm hats/head bands (winter kind) with nothing offensive on them.


After Christmas and birthdays cull any small toys you know will never be wanted or missed. If shoebox-appropriate,  stash them away. (Consider other charities like women’s shelters for other toys).


Check out these great Year-Round Packing Ideas


Then on Halloween next Fall, host a big party for everyone that starts with shoebox packing before trick-or-treat! Take pictures to share. Tweet or Instagram #ipackedashoebox


An Operation Christmas Child shoebox is a gift of God’s love and of HOPE, but it doesn’t need to break the bank or ruin your budget.

Want to see my other posts on this topic? Click on Operation Christmas Child in the Tag Cloud in the right sidebar.

Can’t deal with clutter? If you don’t mind pay BOTH to ship them to the OCC procesessing center AND make a donation to cover shipping the box to the distribution, you can send them year round. You can also fill as shoebox online for $25–NO MESS, NO CLUTTER!!

Samaritan’s Purse

                                                                Attention: Operation Christmas Child

                                                                P.O. Box 3000

                                                                801 Bamboo Road

                                                                Boone, NC  28607

 $7 suggested donation for shipping/handling. You can pay online HERE and get a card telling you where the box ended up!





The Kids I Think of When I Pack Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child Part Two


Last week I told you about the children in Malawi. This week I’m remembering the children in Crimea–then it was Ukraine, today it is Russia. The children in this orphanage were far better off than children in many orphanages, but it had not always been that way for them. A complete change of staff brought caring adults, a clean building and programs that gave the children hope. Operation Christmas Child, or perhaps a similar program (I’ve never confirmed which) gave shoe boxes to at least some of the children in this orphanage.

Local missionaries helped get them good quality used clothing. American adoptive parents formed a group to love on these children in tangible ways. These “ways” included brand new school uniforms, a new washing machine and water heater,  new backpacks, plentiful school supplies, clean, new mattresses and bedding and extra food. The group also sent annual Blessing Bags with brand new clothing, toys, toiletries, warm hats and mittens–some items from the USA and others bought locally to help the economy and to be culturally appropriate. That all changed when Russia took over Crimea.



I was one of those adoptive parents who tried to help with blessing these kids. My heart goes out to them now–all those hopeful things are gone from that orphanage today. If you look closely at the back left of the picture you see a little boy wearing what I called disco shorts! Silky, bright orange! Little girls sometimes had to wear boys’ boxer shorts. The sandals they had for summer were nearly as old as I was, but due to infrequent use they’d lasted. I think of these things. I think of the cold showers the children used to take and the toilets that didn’t work well.


All over the former Soviet Union there are orphanages like this. Soviet culture did not stigmatize giving children up for adoption. Children’s Homes (aka today’s orphanages) were created to liberate mothers–Moms could drop their children off for the week, go to work and then pick them up on Friday. Today it is economics and alcoholism that puts children in orphanages. While, Crimea has a climate like Indiana’s, other regions of the former USSR are very cold. Warm clothing is needed out doors–but often indoors as well. It’s hard to keep warm on a diet of thin soup and kasha (wheat porridge).


Children in many parts of the old USSR need truly warm clothes–not Dollar Store see-thru mittens and socks, but the kind you’d want your own children to wear. They need warm slippers to wear at home–were heat is not always available–often thru no fault or neglect of the parents. They need books to look at and toys to play with thru long, bitterly cold winters. They need school supplies to learn and art supplies to enjoy. These are a priority for caring parents, but many don’t earn much money. Photo source.

In Crimea children also need summer clothes, too, as it gets very hot in the summer. Do you want to play outside on an 85 degree day in a full track suit? A hoodie? Cool shorts and sunsuits, sundresses and sandals. In any communal setting everyone needs flip-flops in shower rooms to avoid fungus. Sun hats are an obsession–children in Crimea wear a hat in the summer! Not just babies.



I think of these children most. They look like American children–they wear the same brands (real or fake), they live in normal-looking apartment buildings. They go to schools that are like ours. They watch tv or dvds. But their parents, even those doing their very best, often barely make enough to afford life–just like many parents here, but the the safety net isn’t working  over there. Hospitals may not have electricity part or all of the day. Food may be in short supply in an area. There are no standards for pollution. No safety measures for children, poor if any services for disabled children–most of whom are dumped in orphanages. A family of four often lives in a one bedroom apartment–sleeping on pullout couches is normal. A washing machine is a luxury. For children in rural areas the poverty is often on par with the poorest areas of Africa.

Children in the care of a grandmother or even great-grandmother may truly be starving. Pensions, if paid, amount to a few dollars per month–and buy less than nothing. In rural areas wells may be contaminated by agricultural chemicals. Stores are poorly stocked. Charities provide some food, but not enough. Heartbreakingly, some grandmas give up their grandchildren in the hope that they’ll be adopted and cared for in more comfort than can be provided within the family.


Packing a shoe box for these kids brings HOPE first and foremost. Hope is crucial to happiness, to success, to a decent life.  How would you feel if you couldn’t afford warm clothing for your child, but had to send her out to school on foot or by public transportation, with no gloves or in a summer shirt and outgrown coat? Now how would you feel if your prayers were answered and your child got a shoe box with a warm sweater, warm slippers, new socks (not footies), a warm hat  and thick mittens? Blessed. You’d feel blessed. Your child would feel warm, loved, cared for. You’d have hope. Photo Source.

There’s still time to pack a shoe box. Operation Christmas Child has great ideas here on what to pack. In previous posts I’ve mentioned things to pack. It doesn’t take long to do the shopping, you won’t miss the money–it’s the same as a few days worth of Starbucks. It’s a project your family can do together. You can pay for shipping and receive a card saying where your box went. You are welcome to put in a picture of your family and your address if you’d  like–many people receive thank you letters. Give hope. Pack a shoe box.

If you pack a shoe box, come back here on November 12–21st and post your photos. I’m holding a Virtual Packing Party that starts that day. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to email me photos and I will add them to the post with appropriate acknowledgement. You can also TWEET or Instagram #ipackedashoebox. All of this helps spread the word. The word is HOPE. We’re showing the world God’s Provision.


The children I think of when I pack O.C.C. Christmas Shoeboxes, part I


These children are very real to me–it is my old camera that took this photo–I gave it to their uncle. They were all three alive when I left Malawi in 1991. I would imagine all are dead today. Life expectancy is very poor in Malawi and they are from one of the poorest regions of that country. Today there is famine in their home area. This photo was taken the day their mother was buried and sent to me. They took the dress off the mother’s corpse, washed it and the next day the girl above began wearing it. That is poverty. The little boy died a year later for lack of Tylenol for his fever, lack of nutritious food, lack of a mosquito net or chemical mosquito coil to burn and lack of….well…HOPE.


Even if you stop reading here–you’ll understand more about why I do this and about world poverty.

It is the lack of HOPE that Operation Christmas Child so successfully treats.

A few months later, the Uncle who took the first photo, sent this one. The girl is now wearing the shoes I left behind as I went home to the States after Peace Corps.  The clothes they are wearing cost way more to mail than to buy on Clearance for a dollar each at the Family Dollar Store. But they are changed in this photo. All three are now looking at the camera. A photo was a serious thing at that time in Malawi, so broad grins were not the norm.

These three children, whose names I won’t share, are the reason I do Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes When I sent and brought gifts (I made two return trips to Malawi) for these children and many others, their Uncle (who supported 40+ dependents) could pay their school fees, give their grandmother a little money for medicine and extra food, for soap and for additional garden seeds to supplement those she saved each year.


I also think of this brave lady and her children–again, they are most likely all dead by now. She bravely asked me for a loan to plant a bigger garden. With the pennies I gave her for more seeds, another garden-hoe and some bus fare to take the first vegetables to a big market, she was able to buy her sons ready-made clothing and not just fabric to give a cheap tailor. (Her daughter’s new dress is fashionable, but made from my old curtains that I couldn’t use in that house). You can see that the little boy’s tummy is still distended from malnutrition. She was able to feed them very well–knowing that each day there was food they must eat and eat to survive the “hunger” when the crops aren’t in and the food is running low. She was able to not only pay the school fees, but she was able to afford the paperback text books for the two boys–and could then save them for her girl. They children also got pencils, chalk for the teacher and plenty of exercise books. All because their mother was brave. She paid back the loan, too. No man who ever asked for a loan every paid it back! Sadly, a year later, the baby she is carrying in the photo died during a period of famine.



I think of the children in the very poor villages of Malawi–not the children of the Malawian Civil Servants with whom I worked each day. Those were the children of “been-to’s”; their parents (sometimes both) had been to the US or the UK or somewhere else for a college degree–maybe even two degress. Those children were middle class. Their village relations were an embarrassment and a serious drain on the family checkbook.


Source Hungry Planet

This photo is from Mali, not Malawi, but the food presented is typical of most of Africa–a starch as primary food, beans as the main protein, salt and sugar, cooking oil. The main dish in Malawi IS nutritious–tomato, onion, and _______ (either greens or okra in the tomato mixture or hard-boiled eggs, fish or beans or meat if/when such luxuries are available.) When eaten with whole meal corn porridge it is very adequate.  Washing hands in a common bowl, sharing spoons or cups, also contribute to ill-health. If one person has T.B. or other illness, all soon have it. Then there’s the problem, still, of clean water.



I think mostly, though, of the children who were just somehow fed and brought up in that fabled village of Mrs. Clinton’s. Children who hovered on the sidelines–watching, always watching. Without parents or other relatives they were just “alive.” They are in every village–in some the school may look the other way and let them sit outside and learn. Usually some Grandmotherly woman sees they are fed a little. Such children are just like in this quote:

Photo Source:

“[He] would come with me, but would not join the children on the school-benches, he would stand a little away from them, as if consciously closing his ears to learning, and exulting in the simplicity of those who consented to be taken in, and to listen.”

(Out of Africa, by Isak Dineseon, pages 32-33).



Child wearing a blanket sleeper–obviously donated–as his only clothing. Source

At Target I found “pet” blankets for $3–none with an obvious dog or cat print. All soft and warm–unlike the harsh local blankets. At Gabriel Brothers I found, admittedly thin, fleece blankets for $2 and bought all that were left. I’m a pro at packing these things.  No  one who is forced to co-sleep finds it romantic like so many middle class Americans do right now. Instead, those forced to co-sleep dream of a blanket for each child so each may be warm and sleep well. In Africa children usually sleep in their same clothes or naked so the clothes can be washed and hung to dry overnight. It gets down to the 40s at night in Southern Africa. That’s pretty damned cold. Pajamas are unknown and would simply be worn as daytime clothing. Blankets are prized.

Poverty looks very different in other countries. In Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mosambique poverty means malaria, cholera, t.b., and infected burns that kill toddlers who stumble into cooking fires or grab a pretty flame. It means being so hungry, at least part of the year, that you have no energy. It means what is called “protein-energy” malnutrition–a fully tummy, but full of nothing the body can use. Food Security–a year-round source of nutritious food, is a dream. Charities like Save the Children and government agencies like USAID try to help. When Princess Anne came to my research station in 1991, she was bringing attention to food security and Save the Children.


Nsima–corn porridge.

Source This source shows true Malawian food. Very nice blog post.


Nsima with Ndiwo–“relish” or vegetables and beans. Served on impossible to de-grease cheap plastic plates.  Source

Local practices, too, can hurt children, too. Many in Malawi mill their corn meal till there is almost no nutrition because white soft, white “Wonder Bread” cornmeal is seen as best. Those who eat the whole meal corn meal are much bigger and stronger. Protein sources are hard to come by. This is largely a legacy of the British–Malawi was the garden when it was Nyassaland. The veggies, rice, and fish came from here–the meat from what is now Zambia and Zimbabwe. Independence, too, played a role. Kamuzu Banda, the nation’s long-time dictator, was a classic totalitarian despot. He made maize [corn] a God and made it the country’s primary food crop–even in areas where rice or sorghum or millet were the traditional grains and were best suited to the region’s climate. These played a huge role in malnutrition for years. Today’s Peace Corps volunteers teach above improved farming and better nutrition.  In many areas REFUGEES eat better than the local population. Here is a link to report on what refugees are given by the UNWFP.

This quote sums up WHY I do this:

“My existence was not random, nor was it an accident.”

(Crazy Love, bu Francis Chan, p. 59).

And of course this verse:

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

(Matthew 25:40 KJV)

Fascinating article on this verse here.


Are you packing a shoebox? Join us on this blog for the Virtual Packing Party on November 12, 2016. Post a link or send an email with photos of your boxes. I’ll be happy to post your photos and give credit.


What Caught My Eye This Week: Shoebox Craft Edition


On Saturday, November 12th, I will be holding a Virtual Packing Party!

Do a post on packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child with photos of your boxes and link up here for a fun online party! This week I was intentional–everything that caught my eye was for shoeboxes!

A Note On Homemade Items

Remember that homemade things are often viewed as a slight–as “less than.” Poor people in many countries make do with next to nothing. Buying something from a store costs so much money that they feel truly honored to receive a store-bought gift. I’m including things here that are homemade, but that I feel would still be seen as a gift.

A Note on Gender-Specific Items

Many foreign cultures has very rigid ideas of what is right or wrong for boys and girls. Men and Women have rigidly defined roles in many societies. It is not helpful to send a child an item that will be taken away. No matter that girls here play sports and boys cook and all sorts of other examples, that is simply not the case everywhere. The role of the shoebox is to show God’s love–not to change a very traditional society.

A Note on Poverty

Poverty in Malawi looks very different than poverty in Ukraine. A child in Ukraine may look like your children’s friends, dress like them and even be seen with toys like theirs. Remember, though, that they go to bed hungry, they may endure a harsh winter with little or no heat and have to go to school in outgrown clothes or no boots even though they might have to walk to school. In Malawi a child may have never had a cup of his own or a pair of underpants. This is about God’s provision, His love, not looks.

Boy Boxes


Photo Source

Older boys are the boxes OCC gets least of. Why not remedy that and hurry up and pack a nice box for a boy 5 to 9 or 10 to 14 years old? Operation Christmas Child has some great suggestions, but I think this is awesome. Draw the cutouts, include the materials and be sure to put in a PHOTO of how it should look! Don’t assume someone will read English. What boy wouldn’t want a Foosball Box?  Directions and more photos at The Mad House. Well done!



Another great boy’s idea–roads! Again, include a photo and, obviously, some Hot Wheels. I love that it has a round-about!

Girl Boxes

If sending feminine hygiene items for older girls, imagine how your daughter would feel opening a Christmas box and having a bag of Kotex or a box of tampons on top? Be discreet–put them in a dark bag.

Source Source

Girls of any age could enjoy this, but remember, in many cultures girls do not have play time. They work carrying water, tending cooking fires and mind younger children. Do not try to do “ethnic” art–just make a simple house with ordinary chairs, etc. Children in Eastern Europe, and other places, live in homes just like ours–though usually much smaller and generally they are apartments.

FREE pattern here. (red)  Free tutorial here  (blue)

These  are very cute little dresses and both easily made out of left over yarn or an inexpensive tank top, and left over fabric. Please, always ask yourself, “Would my child wear this?” I don’t mean would your child jump for joy over it, but would they be willing to wear it if times were hard? That kind of “wear it.”  FREE pattern here.

In the U.S.A. we tend to think all of Africa is on the Equator and stifling hot. It isn’t! Where I lived in Malawi it could be as cold as the 40s early on a winter’s morning. If you send a dress like this, consider spending just a little more and sending a coordinated t-shirt to go under it. Then pack the shirt and dress so they are like a jumper and blouse.

Boy or Girl Box



Washcloths and Soap Bags

Praying Hands Pattern (free)  Three Crosses Pattern (free)

Some of these might end up as decoration in a home, rather than used for a washcloth. Former Catholics, for example, may feel it is not ok to defile them by washing with them No matter–they will be a good gift.

Remember:Gender-appropriate colors!

Towel Soap Bag  Crocheted Soap Bag

My Pinterest board has other great last minute ideas!

Want to save the landfills? Consider Up-Cycling projects like T-shirt bags or T-shirt jump ropes! Instructions on the Pinterest Board below.

If you’d like to participate in the Virtual Packing Party but do not have a blog, that’s ok!

Email me at

I will happily add your photos to my post with whatever acknowledgement you want. That post will be a “sticky” on my blog throughout the collection days.

Have you started packing yet? I have!


I love to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. In the photo above you get an idea of where I’m at with this year’s boxes. Since the oldest boys are the ones few people want to do, I generally do more of those, but usually do at least one box per age/gender category. I watch clearance racks for suitable clothing, but always ask “Would I have bought this for my kids?” first.

Yesterday, I hit one of my favorite OCC shopping spots, Gabriel Brothers (aka Gabes). The photo above (minus the two bags, the 2 balls and 1 polo shirt was $23.00). Another great one is Old Navy–yes, a fashionable brand name, but with super clearance racks. Target is yet another. Some Wal-Marts are good, but I’ve found their stores near me rarely go below $3.00 for a nice enough shirt. I do not load my boxes with tacky left-over St. Patrick’s Day shirts and the like.  I’m giving a GIFT and treat it as such. Dollar Tree is great for a few things like party favors, pencil bags and a few toys. Oriental Trading Company sells bulk toys, water bottles and all kinds of things for super-cheap prices. How about co-oping with a couple of families to buy bulk items?

On Saturday, November 12th I’m hosting a virtual packing party! Come by and post links and photos to your own packing party–vitual or otherwise!


How to pack a shoebox.

Here’s a link to OCC’s month-by-month shopping guide.


Sorting and packing last Christmas


Here are my thoughts on what to pack and even on how to pack.

Remember, each box requires a $7.00 donation for shipping. You can also “pack” a box online. You can pay online for the s/h and have your box tracked, too. Last year our boxes went to Columbia.

  1. Most of the world has never even seen a washer and drier. Knits get really, really stretched in aggressive hand washing and line drying. If in doubt, go with woven fabrics or high quality polo shirts. T shirts with lots of iron-on type embellishment work well too–all that plastic keeps it from stretching as much, but be mindful of what the graphics could say in other cultures. Right after Easter and right after back-to-school are great times to get woven boys shirts, cotton dresses or good quality polo shirts for a very good price. Remember: Camo is a no-no. Military items are not allowed.

Continue reading “Have you started packing yet? I have!”