Saturday, November 21, 2015

#ipackedashoebox: Touching Lives With Operation Christmas Child

Last year, I began a new tradition with Ry. I wanted to teach him at an early age that Christmas is not about 'getting', it's about 'giving'. 

I came across Operation Christmas Child (OCC) online and love the idea of giving something tangible to another child on the other side of the world.

What's Operation Christmas Child?

OCC is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, a non-profit relief organization committed to being Jesus' "hands and feet". Operation Christmas Child sends shoeboxes packed with age-appropriate toys, gifts, hygiene items and school supplies overseas to children, often orphans or street children. Each child receiving a shoebox also has the opportunity to hear a gospel presentation by local pastors and volunteers in their language, and receives a colorful children's booklet containing the plan of salvation in their own language to take home with them.

What Goes Into An OCC Shoebox?

In case you're wondering, here's how to pack a shoebox... from the experts...

Last year, we packed 1 box. It was fun to see how much we could stuff into a shoe box! We tracked  our box to Ukraine, which we thought was ironic, since M is of Ukrainian descent. We love the idea that a little boy in an orphanage somewhere in Ukraine is enjoying the stuffed animal, coloring books, matchbox cars and other items we sent.

This year we're doing 2 boxes. We had fun shopping for fillers... or at least I did. Ry just wanted to play with all the toys. Glad to know I picked items a toddler would like.  :)

So, what's in my shoebox?

Good question. I chose to pack 2 almost identical shoeboxes for the Boy age 2-4 category.

Side note: packing a shoebox doesn't have to be break the bank expensive. I'll include the price breakdown at the end so you can see what I mean. If I'd been a little more on top of seasonal/back to school sales, I could have done a shoebox for even less, but we'll try that next year.

Wow Item(s)
OCC recommends packing a "wow" item - something that would make a child say, "Wow!!" For toddlers, this is pretty easy. I chose a stuffed animal, since that's what Ry is into right now. He loves to just hug his stuffed animal 'friends', so I chose a plush one that's pretty huggable.

Other Fun Stuff
I shopped at the dollar store and found these little wooden peg games and puzzles. I also picked up multi-packs of play-doh and small toys, like these little 'monster' trucks and bathtub boats. More bang for my buck that way.

At Target, I found these cute building block sets. They're a little advanced for a 2 year old, but I figure an older toddler would enjoy them. I also picked up a coloring book and a box of crayons.

School Supplies
I found a brand new box of colored pencils at a yard sale for 25 cents, so I divided that up between pencil pouches in the 2 shoeboxes. 

I found multi-packs of pencil sharpeners, erasers and cute pencils at the dollar store, which I also divided up between the pencil pouches. 

I had a flash of inspiration when I saw these dry erase writing strips at Target. Perfect for classrooms where there's a shortage of paper. And, I have several new dry erase and wet erase markers sitting in my desk drawer. I just had to make room for them.

Personal/Hygiene Items
I found a 4 piece pajama set on clearance at Target, so I divided that up between the shoeboxes as well. Note, I recommend buying for the larger end of your chosen age range - the child can always grow into the clothing.

From the dollar store, full size toothpaste and toothbrushes (found a 4 pack for $1), multi-pack of combs, multi-pack of shoelaces, multi-pack of bar soap and a 2-pack of bandanas (you can use a bandana for a million things, and this way, I can "wrap" the box - I use clear plastic sterilite shoeboxes, so lining the box with the bandana hides the items inside and the child is more surprised when opening it. It's just more fun that way!).

I handmade fleece hats... most places in the world hat at least have a rainy season or get chilly at night, so I figure I'm pretty safe to include a hat and it will be useful.

I had planned to make drawstring backpacks/knapsacks (large enough to hold the shoebox), but my sewing machine died partway through, so Plan B! I figure the child will have to carry the shoebox home, and may have to walk quite a distance. Providing a bag makes the goodies easier to transport! (Last year, I just put in a plastic shopping bag, but this year I decided to go with something re-useable, so Plan B = reusable shopping bag.) Next year, I'll those knapsacks done!

Other Items
What box would be complete without candy? OCC recommends hard candy that won't melt/get messy during shipping. I chose cinnamon discs and starlight mints.  I would have liked to get candy canes, but they didn't have them out yet when I shopped a few weeks ago.

Also, OCC has a printable coloring page/letter that you can color and complete to tell the recipients a little bit about yourself. Last year, we taped this letter and a family photo to the inside lid of the box, so it doesn't get lost in the initial unwrapping and excitement.

Price Breakdown (per shoebox)
  • Stuffed animal = free (donated from Ry's huge stash of animal friends)
  • Bathtub boat = $.25
  • Monster trucks (2) = $.50
  • Building blocks set = $1
  • Wooden puzzle = $.50
  • Wooden peg game = $1
  • Giant coloring book = $1
  • Crayons (1 carton) = $1.25
  • Play-doh (3 mini tubs) = $.38
  • Colored pencils (8, assorted colors) = $.125
  • Erasers (4 mini) = $.125
  • Pencil sharpeners (2) = .50
  • Dry erase writing strip = $.50
  • Dry erase markers (2) = free (donated from my office stash)
  • Pajamas (2-piece) = $2.50
  • Combs (2) = $.50
  • Toothbrushes (2) = $.50
  • Toothpaste = $1
  • Shoelaces = $.167
  • Bar soap = $.333
  • Candy = $1
  • Hat = free (fleece from my fabric remnant stash)
  • Reusable shopping bag = free (from my stash)
  • Bandana = $.50
  • Pencil pouch = $.50
  • Clear plastic latch lid shoebox = $1.99
  • Online tracking/shipping label = $7

Total investment (per shoebox) = $23.82

Note, the OCC website isn't terribly clear about whether you have to pay the $7 per box, or just per family (meaning pay only $7 one time and print as many labels as you need). Depending on how you interpret this, the cost for my box could be as little as $19.32.

Packing Tips
Choosing new/like new items to pack into your shoebox doesn't mean 'with tags' or 'in the package'. Save space by removing bulky tags and packaging before packing your shoebox. (My only exception to this 'rule' is toothbrushes.)

Make sure to wrap your soap in foil, then seal it in a zip top bag. I recommend packing your candy as far away from your soap as possible so they don't pick up a 'soapy' taste.  Also seal your toothpaste in a zip top bag to contain any potential mess if the tube gets squished during transit.

What Now?
  • I encourage you to get out there and fill a shoebox for a child in need. It doesn't have to be fancy - a cardboard box will do. What matters is that God uses this tangible gift as an opportunity to draw more souls to himself and that is priceless.
  • (If you're not able to get out and shop,  you can fill a shoebox online or just make a donation.)
  • Drop off your shoebox at a designated drop off location (click here to find one near you) during national collection week (November 16-23, 2015).
  • And most importantly, pray for the volunteers that will be packing, shipping, and distributing the boxes, the pastors that will be presenting the gospel and the children that will be receiving a box.

You still have a few days left! Post a selfie (of you with your shoebox(es)) and post it on social media with hashtag #ipackedashoebox so we can celebrate and pray with you!


  1. That is so awesome! Our church started collecting for shoeboxes this summer when the kids were in VBS. Then they packed up the boxes and dropped them off this week. I'm not sure of the exact number, but I know there were more than 100. I love how you're teaching Ry to help out others. (Also, I didn't know M was Ukranian. Cool!)

    1. Hurray! I love to see kids getting involved in helping other kids!

  2. great job! Praying for the children who receive these!


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