Can you imagine being a child and having experienced nothing but poverty your entire life? Not having the stability of a comfortable home, not knowing if food would be on the table, not knowing if you’d be able to attend school … Life would be very uncertain. And likely, quite bleak.

Then imagine attending a church meeting. You likely have no idea what is coming. To your amazement, someone opens a crate and begins handing out boxes. Shoeboxes, in fact. Brightly-wrapped shoeboxes, full of wonderful gifts. And then you learn that these gifts are free. They have been donated by people who you have never met, and there is one for YOU.

Just imagine.

(And maybe grab a tissue if you’re a crier.)

Samaritan’s Purse is an organization that truly fulfills their mission of being a “Good Samaritan” by reaching out to those who most need help. One of their wonderful ministries is Operation Christmas Child.

I love this program so much, it makes my heart hurt. I love the way it allows me to teach my children to serve those that they have never met. And since I shop for shoeboxes all year long, I love the way it encourages me to think about others every time I’m at the store.

Here’s how it works: You get a shoebox (or a shoebox-sized container). You decide if you want to fill it with gifts for a boy or a girl, and you choose an age group (2-4, 5-9, and 10-14). You pack it with small gifts and a few practical items. You drop it off at a local collection center in late November. You donate $7 to cover shipping. And then you feel amazingly wonderful for a long, long time.

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There are details on the website, but here are the answers to a few common questions:

What do I put in a shoebox? Anything that will be enjoyed by a child! I always include hygiene items (soap, washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb), toys, something to cuddle, candy, school supplies, and then whatever else I can cram in there! For more ideas, and to see what you CAN’T pack, check out  http://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/pack-a-shoe-box/.

Where and when do I drop it off? Drop-off week is November 17th-24th. Starting October 1st, you will be able to find your closest drop-off location here: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/drop-off-locations/ . In my area, the two closest locations are a large church and a university library, both within 10 minutes of my home. There are over 4,000 sites, so there is likely one easily accessible to you.

How do I know what a child would want? Ask your child, ask neighborhood children, ask your Facebook friends. And rest assured that almost anything you can think of to send will be cherished and deeply appreciated. I follow Operation Christmas Child on Facebook, and they will share stories year-round about the children who receive the shoeboxes. One little girl (who lived in an area with a very warm climate) received mittens. She was thrilled because she was in charge of taking hot food off of the fire, and she was so grateful to have something to protect her hands from getting burned. Another little girl lived in an orphanage and her favorite gift was a new toothbrush – she had previously been sharing one with twenty children, and she was thrilled to have a toothbrush of her very own. (Does that kind of feel like a warm hug and a slap-in-the-face wake-up call to you, too?)

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How do I pay for shipping? They ask for a $7 donation to cover each box. You can write a check the day you drop them off, or you can pay online. When you make your online donation, you get to print off a barcode to tape to the top of each box. When they arrive at their destination, that barcode will be scanned and you’ll receive an email telling you where your boxes ended up! Last year, mine were split into different shipments and they ended up going to the Ukraine, the Republic of Congo, China, and the Philippines.

What if I can’t afford to send a shoebox but I’d love to pack one? Every donated shoebox will be accepted, so don’t let that be the reason you don’t pack one. But you can also ask and see if any of your friends want to split the cost with you. Maybe you have a family member who wants to support this cause but doesn’t have time to pack – they can be your sponsor. Or …

I’ll pay for it!

For this week’s service challenge, I will choose one person who participates in the challenge and I will pay $7 to cover your shoebox donation! You will receive a copy of the e-mail with the attached barcode, so all you’ll have to do is print it off and stick it to your shoebox.

So here’s what you do for this week’s challenge:

  • Get a box. It can be a shoebox you have lying at home, or you can go to a shoe store and ask for an extra one. I’ve found employees to be very helpful – one even told me that next time I needed some, I could call the store the day before and they would save them for me. The small plastic tote bins from the dollar store work great as well, and they might end up being a very useful part of the gift.
  • Put one item in it. (Yup, that’s it!) This time of year is a great time to start shopping because many stores have school supplies on sale, or even on clearance. This will be ending very soon, so now might be a good time to grab a box of crayons, pencils, whatever.

That’s it! You’re started on your shoebox journey! And if you pick up one item a week from now until drop-off time, you’ll have a great little shoebox packed!

Shoebox Challenge

Here are the ways you can enter our free shipping giveaway: Each action is worth one entry, but remember to come back to this blog post and leave one separate comment per activity:

  • RSVP for the shoebox challenge on this post
  • Share the shoebox challenge on your Facebook page and/or Instagram account and include #theshoeboxchallenge in your comment
  • Comment on my Facebook page when you complete the challenge and share what you did with the rest of us
  • Post a picture on my Facebook page account of your shoebox and include #theshoeboxchallenge in your comment
  • Write a note on your own Facebook page sharing what you did and include #theshoeboxchallenge

Thank you for taking the time to read this post! Operation Christmas Child is something I truly feel passionate about. I hope I’ve encouraged you to think about packing a box of your own this year. You’ll be so glad you did!

P.S. Here are a few tips for packing on a budget:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for donations. Many dentists will give you an extra toothbrush or two (or sometimes many more) if they know you’re donating to a good cause. Many companies will give you promotional materials (like T-shirts and pens) if you ask.
  • Every time you’re in a store, look at the clearance rack! If you find something kid-friendly, small, and sturdy, snag it!
  • Use coupons. My Michaels has small pads for stickers for $1.00. Every time I’m nearby and I have a 50% off coupon, I swing in and grab one for 50 cents.
  • Ask others to help! I have received TONS of helpful items from friends. Share a little bit about OCC on your Facebook page – you might be surprised by how many people want to help.
  • Check out my Operation Christmas Child page on Pinterest – I’ve gathered a few ideas that might help you get started. http://www.pinterest.com/letsdosomegoodt/operation-christmas-child/

6 Comments on The Shoebox Challenge

  1. This is so inspirational Kimber. My daughters birthday is coming up and this would be a great activity to do. Instead of people bringing gifts fo her…they can bring shoebox donations. She will love this because she said recently “I dont need anything mom”. Well…let me tell you about kids that do…