One of our favorite parts of the Christmas season is packing our shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. For those who aren’t familiar, Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse that delivers shoeboxes filled with gifts to children in impoverished nations around the world. Every year, families and churches pack millions of these shoeboxes full of toys, school supplies, and personal care items that get hand-delivered by volunteers throughout the world spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
If you aren't yet familiar with Operation Christmas Child, watch this quick video to learn more about it:
For years, we’ve been packing our boxes almost entirely in one big trip to Dollar Tree. Virtually everything on Operation Christmas Child’s list of gift suggestions can be found at Dollar Tree. You can even buy a plastic box to pack it in for just $1! Here is some of what we've learned:
When packing Christmas gift boxes for children, your first thought is probably the toys. Everyone knows Dollar Tree has an abundant selection of toys all for just $1. From toy cars to dolls to plastic animals and dinosaurs to games to bouncy balls to puzzles to jump ropes and just about every kind of toy you can think of, Dollar Tree has a wide variety of toys to pack in your boxes.
When packing your shoeboxes, remember that each must be marked for either a boy or a girl, ages 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. What you pack inside should depend on the age and gender of the child you intend to receive it.
Operation Christmas Child recommends including a “Wow” Item in your box, such as a doll or stuffed animal. Think of the “Wow” Item as the first big thing the child will see when they open your box. Dollar Tree usually has a good selection of teddy bears, stuffed monkeys, and baby dolls that make great “Wow” Items. You can often even find foam footballs for boys in the toy aisle.
Here’s a pro tip – check the seasonal section. Dollar Tree is famous for having tons of seasonal decorations for holidays like Christmas, and the front aisles of Dollar Trees are always filled with Christmas decorations, wrapping supplies, and – you guessed it – toys. This year, we found an entire aisle at our local Dollar Tree with shelves packed full of boxes labeled “Toyland,” overflowing with toys.
In the Christmas section you will likely find a box full of Christmas themed stuff animals like dogs, penguins, and bears wearing Santa hats. These make great “Wow” Items as they’re sure to catch a child’s eye when they open your box, but they don’t take up too much room. They could bring a child a lot of joy for just $1.
For some fun toy ideas for packing your shoebox, here's Uncle Si:
Many of the children who receive OCC shoeboxes need school supplies. Dollar Tree carries just about every school supply you can think of – pens, pencils, notebooks, scissors, sticky notes, glue sticks, erasers, pencil sharpeners, and many other items. For fun, you can also include a coloring book and a big box of crayons.
Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing solar-powered calculators. Although we have occasionally found solar-powered calculators at Dollar Tree, we usually only find battery-powered ones. For a solar-powered calculator, you may have to look to Walmart or Staples. However, personally, we have never held onto a calculator long enough for the internal battery to die, so we think the regular battery-powered calculators at Dollar Tree are just fine and always pack one in each box. Dollar Tree even carries scientific calculators for just $1, which seems like a great bargain.
Personal Care Items
Some of the countries where OCC boxes are delivered may not have easy access to hygiene items, so it’s a good idea to pack a few practical items for children in their boxes. Washcloths, bars of soap, toothbrushes, dental floss, combs, lip balm, and hairbrushes make great additions. While liquids like toothpaste and deodorant used to be allowed, liquids are now forbidden in OCC shoeboxes due to problems with leaking during shipment. So, remember to only pack solid items like the ones listed above.
You can often find 3-packs of toothbrushes with cases for just $1, which are especially great if you’re packing multiple boxes. The same goes for 3-packs of bar soap.
Dollar Tree stores are starting to stock more and more clothing items. You can find many kinds of dress socks, socks with fun patterns, flip flops, and slippers. For girls, you can find hair ties, headbands, bracelets, scarves, and bags. You can even find t-shirts at many Dollar Trees these days.
If you’re packing a shoebox for an older boy, tools like a universal screwdriver would make a thoughtful gift to help him take care of his family.
Party Supplies and Small Items
To fill every nook and cranny in your box, buy some bags of party favors like whistles, noisemakers, and little plastic toys. You can also find bags of plastic dinosaurs, bugs, and other animals in the toy section. Packs of pencil sharpeners, erasers, and stickers also make good fillers.
If you’re packing a shoebox for a 2-4 year old, remember there is a special section in Dollar Tree, often next to the hygiene items, that has items specifically for babies. You can find bath toys, baby toothbrushes, and other fun items for babies and toddlers in this section.
What Not to Pack
Keep in mind that there are a few types of items that are not permitted in your shoebox. Candy, chocolate, gum, and other foods are no longer permitted, likely because they often melt in transit. Breakable items like those made of glass are not allowed. Liquids of any sort are not allowed. And because many of these boxes get delivered to war-torn countries, war-related items like toy soldiers are not allowed.
The Box Itself
One of the “life hacks” we discovered from our experience packing Christmas shoeboxes at Dollar Tree is how you can buy the box itself at the store and pack the box all in one trip. Usually in the clothing aisle, there are plastic bins with lids that are the perfect size for packing. To keep the lids on tight, you can pick up a bag of rubber bands in the school supplies aisle. Plus, if you don't have a roll of packing tape to tape your OCC label to the lid of your box, pick up a roll in the packaging section.
When you buy your box at the store, you can lay it in your shopping cart and load it with gifts as you go along, so you’re sure to get just the right amount of stuff to fit in your box. You can even ask the cashier to keep all your items in your box as you check out.
Finishing Your Box
You are encouraged to include a letter in your shoebox to introduce yourself and send encouragement to the child who will open your box. Consider including a photo of your family and let the child know you will be praying for him or her.
Samaritan’s Purse also encourages donors to give $9 for each box to help pay for their shipment around the world. When you pay for a label on the Samaritan’s Purse website, you can later enter your email address to track your shoeboxes and see exactly which country your box(es) went to.
By showing how easy it can be, we hope this post will encourage you to pack a shoebox for a child in need this Christmas. For many children, these Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes will be the only gifts they receive this year. And all it costs you is about $15 and a trip to Dollar Tree.