Last Week to Pack Shoeboxes!


The coming week is your last to pack a shoebox and deliver it to a drop-off location before the end of Collection Week on Monday, November 25th. You can find your closest drop-off site by clicking the link below:

Drop Off Locator

Remember to pay online and print the tracking labels if you want to know which country your box(es) went to. Print Tracking Labels.

If you do not care about tracking, put cash or check [I suggest a money order–it can take a while for checks to clear] for $9 per box in your shoebox–right on top of the contents–do not hide it, it’s removed in the first processing step. You can print the labels for non-tracked boxes here.

Do Not Include

Candy; toothpaste; gum; 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.

No time to shop?

No problem! For $25 you and your family can still help by packing a box online:

Pack a Shoebox Online

Why do I do this? Why should you do this?


 The Children I Think of When I Pack Operational Christmas Child Shoeboxes Part I and Part II

Sample Boxes and Sample Contents

Sample big girl box, 10 to 14 years old

For those who need ideas below are most all of my shoebox contents photos to help you plan your shopping! Hover over the photo to see the caption that tells the gender/age of the box or other details.

Sample Shoeboxes




You can see all of my Operation Christmas Child Shoebox posts by scrolling down on the right side of this blog and, in the world cloud, click on Operation Christmas Child. I am not paid or rewarded in any way for these posts. I am not an “official” blogger for the program, either. I do these posts because I love helping children one at a time. Each box helps one child. No child is required to attend religious education for receiving a shoebox.


A recent Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Distribution in my Peace Corps country, Malawi. I love seeing the Warm Heart of Africa served in this way!

Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes: What I LOVE to Pack For Big Boys


Years ago, my son received some sort of a Christmas shoebox gift in Ukraine. We do not know if it was from Samaritan’s Purse as there are other groups who do this sort of thing all over the world.  Anyway, that is why I love doing shoeboxes. That and the fact that it is one-on-one help to a child.


This box (above) has a backpack, small water bottle, pencil bag with full school supplies, notebook, coloring book, soap (not shown) in soapbox, wallet, watch, backpack “sushi” stuffie that clips on, ball, Hot Wheels (not shown), shorts, shirt, underwear, big washcloth, and more.

If you’ve read my shoebox posts in the past, you know that Toddler and Big Kid boxes are the ones most in need. Often I hear people wonder what to send big boys like it is a huge mystery! Since I raised a guy who loves to draw and loves art (and he loves the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, too!) Keeping in mind that a soccer ball isn’t the be-all-end-all for every boy or girl on the planet, (though I send many because they are fun!) here are some of my favorite things to send:

Tool Box: One popular idea in the shoebox community is to collect all the Harbor Freight freebies and start a toolbox for a boy. Add in a calculator, geometry set, work gloves, assortment of nails/screws/etc, nail apron and school supplies. You can even pack it in a Dollar Tree plastic toolbox if you like–they are accepted! I include a  “vice-grip” style wrench, too. I understand Menard’s does freebies like this too. While I OPPOSE sending kitchen stuff to girls, I agree with sending boys tools–both as boys’ “craft kits” or as a help in starting a career or because guys need stuff like this.

[I disagree with kitchen stuff because girls are forced into marriage too often–they don’t need to be ready to set up housekeeping to help their parents make that decision. Plus girls are already doing the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. Too many don’t get to “play house” or dream of a romantic life with a man they love in most cultures.]

Scientific Calculator and Geometry Set: I started sending these this year to 4 boys and 4 girls and will expand each year until every big kid box gets them. I want to see girls educated to reach their potential, but it is much more likely for a boy to be sent on to secondary school. Having the right tools lets him go farther. We all hope that a better-  educated man is a more generous and decent man to his future wife and children. [Sorry, I do not have a photo of a boy box with these included.]

Art supplies: Watercolors, colored pencils, notebook or sketch pad, geometry set, grown-up coloring books, how-to-draw books.

Sudoku books. The diagrams show how to play–no English needed.

Wallets and credit card-sized inspirational “cards”–such as The Lord’s Prayer or non-religious, but uplifting sentiments.

High-quality travel games with picture directions. Dominoes, checkers, chess, etc. This year I found very nice quality domino sets in a vinyl storage case at my independent dollar store. Mini Etch-e-sketch is good, too as are regular old decks of cards (I do not send “Casino” branded ones).

Big, heavy washcloth. Those cheap packs you buy everywhere do not clean real dirt from hard, physical labor. Also, in many African countries, young men may go away to work and live in a laborer’s hostel. They need things that last. I watch clearance at TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and others for these.

Underwear. I put underwear in every box. It is about dignity.

Flip flops or “slides” or sneakers. Under men’s size 8.

High-quality water bottles. Skip the ones at Dollar Tree. [Dollar Tree has lots of EXCELLENT products, too, but the water bottles are poor quality].

Envelopes: I put one or two envelopes in the notebook. Some places you still write an actual letter to apply for a job.  Paper of all types can be very expensive.

Soccer Ball and pump and extra needle. I look for the ones that have a small hose-like attachment for the pump that can then do bike tires, too. That alone can make a few cents here and there for the boy in rural areas, especially.

Shorts and Shirt or Light Jacket.  Keep to boys sizes or, at most, a man’s small. Puberty tends to hit around 14 in less-developed nations.


Mini Skateboards: These keep my son occupied for hours! Dollar Tree has them, but I skip those with skulls as decorations. You can change the wheels and some have stickers to use in “customizing” them.

Sports Trading Cards Especially for soccer, but any sport is fun.

Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars Always popular.


Backpack: Either very lightweight, folding/travel type or a “sting” backpack–all are useful.

Watch: A decent kids watch. Something durable but that looks grown-up.


Small stuffie: A found a lot of Shopkins-like tacos this year (see the photo at the top of the post). I sent a few of those in big boy boxes. Things like that can be fun and not as embarrassing as a Teddy might be. Some small stuffies start life as Christmas tree ornaments. I clip off the “hanger”. “Yukon Cornelius” from the Rudolph t.v. special was a fun choice for one box (see below) and a Bengal’s football stuffie made a nice addition to a themed box (below).

Don’t be afraid to add things YOUR son or grandson likes–yes, they like stuff other than video games! Do a box like the one above for a favorite team–I put a photo of the team on the inside of the lid and told in my note that it was a local team.


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


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

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

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

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

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

Housewares and Taboos

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Shoebox Time Again! To Theme or Not to Theme!


As you know, I love to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child. [Yes, I know. I do know who Franklin Graham supports other than Jesus. Yep. Got it. This isn’t about politics, ok?]

Theme Boxes

Lots of people enjoy packing theme boxes for children. It lets a child experience the idea, event, character, whatever, in a deeper way. Every year I do a Spiderman box for a little boy since my son was obsessed with Spidey! I also do a Snoopy box since I love Snoopy. In the past, I’ve done a Frozen box for a 5– 9-year-old girl, a farm box for a toddler boy and a few others. I try not to go too far with it–every item in the box doesn’t have to have Snoopy or whoever. I just do not use any other theme/character. There are always plain items. This year I had my Spidey and Snoopy boxes (but forgot to take photos, of course!) as well as a Hello Kitty box for a toddler girl and a dinosaur box for a 5 to a 9-year-old boy with toys, Hot Wheels made like dinosaurs and a special dinosaur t-shirt!

Note: Please remove the packaging whenever possible. I’ve shown it here to make the photo easier to understand.


Batman themed items included socks, toys, Batmobile Hot Wheels, pencil-topper eraser, hoodie, water bottle and (not shown) stickers and coloring book.


Cincinnati Reds–I did two of these. This is the big boy version. It has the Reds pencil bag, notebooks, string backpack, t-shirt as well as baseball-themed pencil, socks, erasers, and scissors and Hot Wheels car and (not shown) rubber baseball.

The little boy version had the same pencil bag, pencil, erasers, scissors and Hot Wheels car, rubber baseball, as well as a sports coloring book, baseball mini-figures, 1 baseball themed t-shirt and one tank top (plus shorts), baseball print socks and more. This box also has a Snoopy stuffie in baseball uniform! Both boxes get a team photo in the inside of the lid.

73415939_10163401807115643_6582668496499376128_oCincinnati Bengals –again I’m showing the big boy version. Same sort of things as the Reds box, but also include a football-themed pack of index cards and a Bengals football stuffie. As you can see there are plenty of non-themed items to round-out the box. Neither the shorts nor the shirt (not shown) was related, either.

The little boy box had a football-themed shorts outfit, a small soft football, two football mini-figures, a sports coloring book, and school supplies and socks like the big boy box. Both boxes get a team photo in the inside of the lid.

Family Themed Boxes

I also did family-themed boxes. Spiderman, which I did for a toddler boy this year, is for my son. My daughter’s box (which I accidentally deleted the photo of) had some of her favorites: Barbie, little girls sticker-nails, a stuffed giraffe, a toy dolphin, a stuffed taco to clip on the folding backpack, taco socks and other things she loved as a girl or still loves.


This box celebrates the things my now-grown nephew loves. Many of these things his own son loves today, like the Ninja Turtles! (I cut the weapons off the figures). Turtles Items include a magic washcloth, coloring book, toys, and stickers. I choose clothing with “turtle” colors. He had a large collection of Pound Puppies, so I had to include one of those! He’s a Martial Arts champion so I found the little martial arts guys to play with. Finally, he played football in high school so the scissors and socks are football-themed and there is a soft football in his high school’s main color-green. The soapbox is in his college’s main color. It was fun to remember all of these things as I looked for them. I also put a special note in each of these boxes.


I loved finding this little magnetic dress-up set of a football player! Since American football isn’t known everywhere, this was a nice way to educate. I thought it would be good fun during the rainy season if his country has to endure that. This box was prepared for a boy 5 to 9 years old. (It missed getting into the original photo above).

For those who are interested, here is a list of what was in the other themed boxes:

Dinosaurs: School box full of high-quality dinosaur toys, Dinosaur t-shirt, socks, Hot Wheels, pencils, erasers, stickers, coloring book, stuffie, dinosaur flashcards, and dinosaur child’s nonfiction picture book.

Hello Kitty: Toddler’s H.K. ballcap, coloring book, school supplies (except for plain pink pencil bag), stuffie, t-shirt (plain pink shorts), and more.

Snoopy: This year was my “lightest” Snoopy box. It only had a t-shirt, bandana, eraser, and stuffie. Other years have been way better!

Spiderman: This was for a toddler boy so it had Spidey swim trunks/shorts, t-shirt, small stuffie, Crock-style shoes, pencil bag, erasers, 6 Spidey Hot Wheels, stickers and more.

My desired contents in all boxes: full school supplies, an outfit including underwear (though due to space, Batman got a hoodie and shorts, but no shirt), and a toothbrush. Everything else can be different box-to-box.

More to Come

In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more photos of my boxes by age/gender as well as some packed by friends. My way is only one way–there is no right or wrong way! The forbidden items list is very short:

Do Not Include

Candy; toothpaste; gum; 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. (source)

Have you ever packed a themed box? What theme and for what age(s)/gender(s)? Leave me a comment–you can even link to your post about it!

Operation Christmas Child! What new things I’m packing this year & new organizing tips!

OCC National Collection Week  

A Little Background

I enjoy packing shoeboxes for children with Operation Christmas Child.  My children once lived in an orphange in the former USSR–my son received some sort of shoebox gift, so we’ve done them for many years. Operation Christmas Child is only one way that Samaritan’s Purse helps people around the world. They have helped people in the so-called Caravan of refugees coming the Texas border as well as those in disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes or other refugee situations. They take specialist physicians in to perform surgeries for people who would never receive treatment otherwise and do a lot of other humanitarian outreach activites.

Operation Christmas child provides a one-time gift shoebox, packed by a volunteer or a church or an organization, filled with HOPE. Hope–not politics. Yes, there is an opportunity to receive instruction and accept Christ, but it is not madatory in order to receive a gift. Yes, THAT Franklin Graham, who supports you-know-who a lot, is inovled. So what? It’s about the kids–not about the White House.

Now that we’ve got THAT out of the way…..


2018 was my year of OCC–every cent possible went to my shoeboxes and my school supply packs for underfilled boxes (more on these in an upcoming post). Here are the 113 or so shoeboxes and roomfull of boxes of school supply packs that I packed in 2018. The need for well-filled boxes and packs IS this great.

What’s New in My Shoeboxes for 2019

The greatest need is always for boxes in the 2-4 and 10-14 age groups. That’s the group I focus on each year, but I still pack boxes for all the age groups. The need is there for all, believe me.

In the 10-14 age group:

For both boys and girls

4 boys and 4 girls will receive these. In many places students today need a scientific calculator (I hope this one is ok!) and a geometry set for secondary school. That’s a burden for parents on top of required uniforms (in many places) and regular school supplies. I could only manage 8 this year.  I hope to increase the number each year.

For girls


Most of my 10-14 age girl boxes will include a small “starter” pack of washable, cotton sanitary napkins, washcloths, extra underware, extra soap and picture insturctions. 1 heavy pad, 2 regular pads and 2 liners. I bought these on Amazon–I purchased 3 different brands/styles to see what the quality was. I’d like to have bought them on Etsy, but most of the affordable ones were these–made in China. Days for Girls has the gold standard of all such kits–this is just to help a girl out, it is not a full menstruation supply solution.

In the 2-4 age group


See that yellow cup and bowl? I was so happy to finally find more of these cups/bowls at Kroger! They are so easy to pack. I also include a child’s spoon or fork/spoon set. I get those in the Dollar Spot at Target (VERY nice quality & mine were 50% off this year) or at Dollar Tree. Last year I used a popular set from Wal-mart but they were harder to fit in. A child with his/her own serving of food is better nourished than one fed off someone else’s plate.

EVERY age I try to put in shoes or flip-flops–sometimes both!

Organization Changes I’m Sticking With

Packing more than two or three shoeboxes when you are on a tight budget means shopping year around and storing stuff. It can take over your house if you aren’t careful–especially when your house is small like mine. I do not have a walk-in closet, a garage or a basement and only hard-to-access attic space over part of the house. So, my home office is also my shoebox and school supply room.water bottle storage

I have two of these shoe organizers–one on each side of my office door. One is for water bottles, many of which I stuff with school supplies and donate as box “filler,” and one is for actual shoes for shoeboxes.

I give a complete set of clothing, including underwear, in most boxes. This year I “invested” in cheap gallon storage bags and put all of the clothing for a box in a Ziplock bag, then sorted them in these plastic baskets that fit my IKEA (bookshelf) shoebox “command center”. MUCH neater!! I LOVE this system. It works. I did intend to label them, but didn’t get around to that. You can reuse the bags year-after-year to save money.

How about you? Are you doing or adding anything new for your 2019 shoeboxes? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post on this topic.

Want to read more of my shoeboxes posts?

Check out the word cloud in the right sidebar–you can just click on Operation Christmas Child. As you scroll through the posts list there will also be a link to click on to see older posts–those include my own stories of the children I think of as I pack these gifts.

Operation Christmas Child: My First Packing Party!


I went to a marvelous party
I must say the fun was intense
We all had to do
What the people we [hoped]
Would be doing a hundred years hence

Noel Coward, I Went To A Marvelous Party

Operation Christmas Child would probably cease to exist without the generosity of churches who collect merchandise year-round, sew tote bags, pencils pouches, dresses, sanitary pads and hair bands, crochet, and knit hats or sweaters, braid jump ropes out of unwanted t-shirts, and, best of all, have special collections to help with the cost of shipping and The Greatest Journey materials. Thank you to ALL groups–not only churches, who do these things!

Last year I went with a church about two hours away to the OCC Boone, North Carolina, Processing Center. (You can read the first of those posts HERE).  This weekend I drove back up to that church to participate in their annual shoebox packing party. I was amazed! This church is fairly close to the state capital, but people are not rolling in money. Like the community I live in and the one in which my own church is located, each gift is an act of generosity and may even represent true sacrificial giving. Yet the over 500 boxes went out generously and appropriately filled. No need for filler at the processing center–if there is any the day they go through. (Read my post on FILLER here).

Here are my thoughts on why this party was so successful:



See those stacked up boxes?? Those are the empties–all lovingly wrapped by one woman. She wraps ALL the shoeboxes for the church with donated wrapping paper. A true labor of love!

The lady who oversees OCC at this church knows her stuff! She volunteers regularly at Boone and knows how to pack a GREAT shoebox.  Everything was very well organized and the space between “lines” was generous so crowding and jostling did not occur.

Clear Instructions to Volunteers


Everyone who arrived for the start (that was not a mandatory time–folks were welcome to drop in or leave early as family needs dictated which was super). Everyone was told how the process worked and those who came yearly helped newbies without needing to be told to do so which was really nice. I talked with a little boy who was packing girls boxes all day intentionally! It was that kind of a group–caring!

Every box started with NEEDS: hygiene (washcloth, soap, toothbrush) most of which appeared to be bought in bulk, so likely these were provided by the church–though some items may have also been donated. School supplies were next—a box of 24 crayons, then a neat roll of twenty or so pages of notebook paper, (there were a few notebooks presumably for older kid boxes) a huge box of sharpened pencils (again these appeared to be a bulk purchase) which were banded together 3 at a time. (You could take more). There were a few erasers, too.

Then it was on to the fun stuff–toys, stuffies and more! There were stuffed animals (aka “stuffies”) suitable for any age, big to tiny. I loved sorting thru them to find just the right one for each box. How fun to add a bright red daucshund to two girls’ boxes! Another area had coloring books and a few picture books, then a great selection of balls, cars, etc. WOW items were mostly stuffies, but also Nerf footballs, a few Barbies and some other nice toys.

Finally, there were bins of flip-flops (bought on clearance in one purchase from Walmart, plus possibly some donations). Sadly, many people were too shy to sort thru the bins under the table to find a necessary size so many boxes went without. This was too bad–the sizes were generally there, but they needed to be dug out. The few clothing items available, as well as fabric for some girls boxes and a good variety of tote bags or backpacks, were the final items to select.

Every box got a letter that included the church’s name and address. There were also forms for children to fill out to tell the recipient about themselves–these are downloadable, HERE, from Operation Christmas Child. The boxes got rubber banded and placed at the foot of one of two altars in the church for prayers the next day.

Everything went very smoothly, people chatted happily and even a new face like mine was entirely welcome! Best of all, I got to catch up with the friends’ I made on my Boone trip.

I felt they did an outstanding job–as I’m sure all churches truly do!

My Thoughts for Any New Packing Parties


1. Organize, organize, organize!!  I loved starting with the necessities!

2. Sort clothing, shoes and anything else age/size-specific and LABEL them if possible making sure the label can be seen without unfolding the item. (Due to time and money this isn’t always possible).

3. Signage. Have “TAKE ONE” or similar at each “station” so volunteers–esp those who drop in and out throughout the party, know how many. OCC has printable signs for this purpose HERE.

4. Have your youth group sort the early toy donations to weed out things with liquids (like little paint sets with liquid paint or with nail polish etc).  Also, have them weed out any obviously used toys–things must be new or be indistinguishable from new. Throw out broken or incomplete items.  The can also cut packs of stickers into twos or threes to include with school supplies.  Have them give messy-hair Barbies to someone willing to rehab and modestly clothe them in homemade or purchased outfits. Pinterst has instructions and clothing patterns. Have them sort donated boxes. A boot box is NOT a shoebox–toss those or use them as organizing tools.

5. Enlist your quilting, sewing, crocheting etc., groups  to make tote bags, pencil bags, nice, but simple girls dresses (do NOT use actual pillowcases! Some countries have said flat-out no more of these! Use nice fabric), cloth sanitary napkins and other items, crochet coverings for flip-flop straps, crochet, knit or sew little soft toys or other items. Get people involved! Crafters often love to help even if they don’t pack an actual shoebox themselves. Ask local businesses for leftover logo-ed pens, water bottles, cups, notepads, etc. (See the bottom of this post for my OCC Pinterest board with patterns).

6. Educate your church or group. Taboos mean Poo emoji, whoopie cushions and the like may be totally unwanted. Girls may not be able to wear shorts or revealing tops. Other items that may be unwanted are Barbies with no “painted on” clothing or wearing skimpy dresses.  Donate items like kleenex, wet wipes, deodorant, tampons and disposable sanitary napkins to LOCAL charities. Send cloth sanitary napkins which can be washed and reused in big girl boxes. (You can buy these on Etsy if you don’t sew). Remind everyone to remove ALL packaging. For puzzles, cut the picture off the box and put it all in a Ziplock bag. Keep only packaging necessary to explain an item or that provide storage like a crayon box. There isn’t any trash pick up in most countries the shoeboxes go to.

7. If sending clothing make sure it is an appropriate size. Few people are as large as Americans. Skip men’s sizes except Small. Just like in the USA though, girls sizes can be problematic. Don’t send thin, meant-to-be-layered t-shirts. They will be too revealing. Bras are expensive–a basic S-M-L sport or sleep bra is a huge help. Underwear is often too expensive for families in shoebox-receiving countries so be sure to send it when possible, but stick to modest girls styles with no “cute” designs or embellishments. Girls are commodities in many countries. Let’s protect them. Skip the cheap socks and send underwear. Socks are no good without shoes.


Link to pencil bag pattern

8. School supplies are crucial! Paper can be so expensive you weep paying for it. In big kid boxes try to send a composition book or spiral notebook. This may be too expensive for some groups, I know. But talk to Wal-mart when school supplies are dirt cheap in late July and August. You can get spiral notebooks for a quarter. Erasers really do matter! Some children I’ve read about have had to erase old work and re-use the paper. But at least send the pencils! Did you know some children rent pencils and others are expelled for not having one? Forget folders and glue sticks–no one needs them. But try to get pencil bags–kids don’t have safe classrooms with desks to leave supplies in. This is a great project for a sewing group. Youth group, scout troop, or other group, can make them with ziplock freezer bags and cool duct tape.  Others make them from the boxes pencils come in by covering the box with contact paper or duct tape. My Pinterest board (at the bottom) has plenty of patterns for sewing, knitting or crocheting pencil bags.

9. Water doesn’t come out of the kitchen or bathroom taps. Water bottles are a GREAT thing. Any size, any design, but those with a wider mouth are great because school supplies and other little things can go inside them to save space in the box. A cup is always nice if you can’t afford water bottles.

10. Flip flops and shoes save lives as do toothbrushes. Why? Barefeet invite parasites like we never see! And an infected tooth may not meet antibiotics so it may cause death.

12. Skip kid-made crafts unless you send a photo of the children making them. They can be misunderstood. I was horrified to see a church elsewhere send beautiful white sneakers children had “decorated” or “ruined” depending on your perspective. Shoes are treasured and cared for. Put in the picture so they understand.

12. Include a note. These are cited over and over by recipients as so meaningful. You don’t have to include your last name or address. Photos are also really enjoyed. A family photo with first names is great. Why not do a family photo fund raiser? Snap a picture, print it out on regular paper and take donations? Put the money toward bulk purchases or shipping.

13. PRAY for each recipient as you pack and then again for all the boxes. It matters.

14. Follow up. Read out and post any thank you notes or emails the church or group receives. Report to the church any places your boxes–or the boxes of individuals in the church–have gone if you use the “follow your box” labels. This helps people to feel connected to the mission. Also by tracking where your boxes go, you can be more accurate in packing. If your boxes go to Northeast Africa, you can skip mittens, hoodies and other winter clothing items that eat up box space. Have a bulletin board where you can post information from the reliable, up-to-date source about a country or two each month. Post OCC videos or other materials from that country on your church website or on the bulletin board. These really help people to understand the dire poverty of most of the recipients.

Did you go to a packing party this year? Did you do a blog post on it? I’d love to learn from what others did this year. Leave me a link in the comments.

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



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

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

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


Photo: S Braun

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


Photos: S Braun

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

What I’m doing differently for 2018 and 2019

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


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


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

messenger bag.jpg

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


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


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


Time to Start Packing!


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



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


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

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


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

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


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

NEW FOR 2017



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

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


What NOT to pack

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

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

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

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

How to start packing?

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

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



Read more about Operation Christmas Child on their website.


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