Packing Shoe-boxes for Samaritan’s Purse: What I’ve Learned in 20(ish) Years

I couldn’t tell you which was the first year I ever packed a shoe-box for Operation Christmas Child, or what age I was. But I can recount with the precision set aside for warm, happy memories what it felt like.

It happened at my church, and it was dark outside. I stood over what any Westernized Christian child would call a church table (which I think is known as a folding table to the rest of the known universe). Before me, a cardboard shoe-box lay open, wrapped in festive, star-spangled paper. I was surrounded by a cheerful bustle of other packers, but I selected items to place in my box quietly, with utmost care.

I didn’t pay my own money for any of that box’s contents. I don’t even think I was involved in shopping for them, back then. But in my little heart and mind, that box was mine. It was special. I thought about the little girl who would receive it, and though I would never personally know who she was, my heart overflowed with love for her.

The packing system and environment has changed for me over the years. But the feelings of warmth and love remain the same. Because preparing these gifts generally goes down in the fall, I’ve never closely associated it with Christmas. If I did, though… this would probably be my favorite part of it. After all, as scripture says, it is more blessed to give than to receive.

As a veteran shoe-boxer, the idea of this blog post occurred to me yesterday. Why not share the joy? And maybe a few tips and inspirations I’ve picked up over the years? So, here we are!


What is Operation Christmas Child?:

I assume most of my readers are familiar with this ministry, but in case any aren’t in the loop, here are the nuts and bolts of it.

The Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child collects shoebox gifts—filled with fun toys, school supplies and hygiene items—and delivers them to children in need around the world to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way. For many of these children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, has collected and delivered more than 157 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 160 countries and territories.

In 2018, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine. Nearly 11 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2017, with more than 8.8 million collected in the U.S

For more information on and resources for OCC, you can follow this link.

Now, for a few of my personal do’s and do not’s:

DO include handmade gifts, if that’s your jam.

I’ve never learned how to knit or sew cute things. But I often see people putting handmade hats and pillow-case dresses in their boxes, and I think that’s extra special.

DO shop throughout the year to find the best bargains.

I have a box reserved for shoe-box items, and add to it year-round. It’s the way to go, especially if you’re packing more than one or two boxes, and on a budget. Stock up on school supplies when they go on sale at the end of summer. Take advantage of seasonal clearance sales. You’ll save a ton of money and feel like a champ.

DON’T be a miser.

I mean, I do the bulk of my box-shopping at Dollar Tree, because it’s the best ever. What I’m saying is, don’t have a stingy attitude. It’s good to be thrifty, but don’t be cheap. Don’t give what you can’t afford, but give what you can with a generous heart. For me, what this really means is not skimping on wash cloths. There are some truly nasty wash cloths out there. Please don’t buy nasty wash cloths.

DO be as colorful as possible.

I like my boxes to burst with color! As far as there are options available for the items you’re selecting, be bold and extravagant.

DON’T forget relevant accessories.

If you’re packing pencils, remember to include sharpeners. Extra erasers, too, because you know how useless those #2 erasers can be. If you pack a flashlight or calculator, throw in extra batteries. It’s easy to overlook stuff so readily available to us, but (believe it or not) not every village in Ecuador or Mongolia has a local WalMart. Be mindful!

DO include a personal note and/or photo.

Infuse all the love you can into that box. Jot down a mailing or email address, too. I’ve never heard from anyone who received one of my boxes, but you never know!

DON’T think you can’t afford it.

Studies say that the average American spends over $900 every year on Christmas shopping. Even those who fall below that average probably have room to rearrange their budgets to include a child in the third world. You don’t have to break the bank to fill one shoe box!

DO get a group involved, if you can.
The more the merrier, so rope in whatever friends, neighbors, or church-family you can! Make a party of it. You’ll have a blast.
That said…

DON’T feel like you need a group.

It’s totally fun to do on your own, or with just your immediate family, too. As an introspective packer, I’ve always enjoyed working solo the best.

DON’T worry about your box’s destination.

That is, don’t think you can’t put in a pair of socks, because what if they end up in some equatorial region where no one wears socks, and kids hate getting socks anyway. OCC does not control your box’s destination, meaning those socks may very well end up in the hands (or perhaps I should say on the feet) of an Ugandan child. They’ll probably still be more delighted by them than you or I have ever been by a pair of socks. So don’t worry about stuff like that. Trust God to direct both box and socks to the boy or girl with whom they belong.

DO pray.

Probably the best thing you can do for the child who will receive your box is pray for him or her. Ask that your gift will be a true blessing. Thank God for giving you the opportunity to do something sweet and special for one of his children. If you follow OCC on social media, you’ll find they provide lots more direction for your prayers.

A couple more thoughts…

How To Pick An Age/Gender:

This is easy if you have kids of your own. They will have the most fun choosing items for a boy or girl their own age. And what a great way to teach them to love giving! But what if you’re childless (waves hand in air)? Or your kids are grown?

I used to do an equal number of each gender and age group. And you could do that, if the idea tickles your fancy. Honestly, though, it’s a lot more work. Keeping track of stuff, and trying to have every box come out somewhat even is a huge organizational challenge.

Thus, when I learned several years back that OCC receives the fewest boxes for its oldest age-group (the 10-14’s), I devoted my efforts to that category alone. It makes shopping and organizing much simpler.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter what you choose. Packing for any child will be a blessing.


A few of my favorite (shoe-box) things:

– The shoe box itself! I like to start with a durable plastic box (although there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashioned cardboard one, if it’s sturdy enough and spacious).

– Water bottles are the hot new thing to pack, and it’s no wonder. You can find them at Dollar Tree, and stuff them with other items to save space. This was a revelation for me last year.

– School supplies. Maybe it’s because I was home-schooled and never really got in on the traditional back-to-school shopping thing. Maybe it’s because I know how much more non-American children are likely to appreciate protractors and crisp notebook paper. Either way, I major on school supplies. And especially, drum-roll please….

– Backpacks! Last year, I hit the jackpot at the Green Valley Book Fair, finding legit good-quality (but also flexible/foldable!) backpacks for two bucks each. No such luck this time around, but I still made sure to include an easily-packed, affordable drawstring rendition in each box. Along with the water bottles, these are a new fav.

OCC - Philippines Flood Affected kids

National Collection Week is November 12th through 19th! That means you still have plenty of time to pack a shoe-box in 2018. Go forth and seize thy opportunity!

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