It’s January. Christmas is packed away and people are recovering from the holidays. Operation Christmas Child boxes aren’t due for another 10 months.
Now is the perfect time to be planning and buying for your boxes.
Many of us wait until our churches break out the red boxes and brochures, play the video promo, or announce collection week on social media. Then we run over to the dollar store and fill our baskets with things to stuff in the boxes, perhaps finding one or two nicer items at Target. I’ve done it. But, over the years as I’ve learned more about Operation Christmas Child, I’ve listened to the testimonies of the recipients and suggestions of the volunteers, and as my own personal buying philosophy has developed, I’ve stopped the early November “smash and grab” and now consider OCC one of our family’s year-round ministries.
The most important bit of information I’ve learned several years ago, which I hadn’t realized or never considered, is this: Most children will only receive one shoebox their entire lives. One. What I give in that box may be the only gift a child gets, ever.
I’ve always tried to give good items in my box, and have been relatively thoughtful about my selections. Then I had an experience at a packing party that again had me reconsidering my OCC habits; I realized some people honestly believed the children who were given shoeboxes would be happy with a couple pencils, a handful of loose crayons, a few cheap plastic toys, a tennis ball, some foam Oriental Trading Company crafts, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a roll of dental office stickers because, hey, they had nothing anyway. (I assure you, I am not exaggerating.) When I spoke up, I was told, “There’s lots of good stuff here!” What I didn’t say, though I wanted to, was: “If this was in your daughter’s Christmas stocking, would you be saying the same thing?”
So, yes, I ask myself: Is everything in this box something I would buy for my own child, or would want her to have? And, more probing: If these items were the only things my child was given for Christmas, would I be okay with what he received?
This is now how I pack OCC shoeboxes. It does cost more that buying predominantly from the dollar store or Wal-Mart, but I believe it makes a difference, not only to those who receive boxes, but also how I engage with the discipline of giving, with recognizing my abundance, with valuing others, and with teaching my children how to serve and love.
Practically, how does this look:
- Our family sets a monthly Operation Christmas Child shopping budget and purchase within that budget all year.
- We then set a goal of how many boxes we think we’ll be able to fill, and purchase enough “wow” items for that number of boxes. I try to include two extra special gifts per box.
- I love making handmade things for my own children, so I also make a list of things I’d like to craft for the boxes, and work on this list through the year. I use mostly materials and supplies I already have on hand. OCC stresses packing “quality” crafted items. Some ideas: https://www.pinterest.com/occshoeboxes/
- We pray all year - for previous and future recipients of our gifts, for our hearts to be generous, and about what items should go into the boxes.
The Operation Christmas Child website has more ideas for year-round packing. And I'll be writing two or three more posts about things I consider dos and don'ts for shoeboxes, as well as gift ideas you may not have considered.