Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 4: Operation Christmas Child

***Check out the previous installments of this series, “The Twelve Weeks of Christmas” here!

Ok loyal GPP readers, put your Focus pants on.  Today is a very important post!  This installment of “The Twelve Weeks of Christmas” has nothing to do with giving gifts… to people you know, that is.  This one’s all about giving to others, specifically those less fortunate than us.

In a mere two weeks, hundreds of churches, schools, and rec centers all across America will be collecting shoeboxes full of gifts for impoverished children around the world in a project called:

I think the name is a little weird, but whatever.

This project was created by Samaritan’s Purse, whose mission statement is given below (website):

“Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Regardless of your beliefs, it can’t be denied that Samaritan’s Purse does some serious good!  One of their many projects is Operation Christmas Child, which they have been doing for over 20 years.  Of course they accept in-kind donations, but I think it’s more fun to assemble a shoebox full of gifts with a child in mind.  These shoeboxes go directly to children in need (they’ve got the videos on their website to prove it), so for those who are less than excited about donating to charities, knowing that the majority of your donation goes to support the overhead of said charity, you can rest assured;  such is not the case with Operation Christmas Child (OCC).  In fact, the only expense you have to make that does not go directly to the child is a $7 “donation,” which in reality is used to pay for international shipping.  The individuals who work at the churches and other donation centers are usually volunteers, if not employees of the particular location, so you are in no way compensating them with your donation.  Warm feeling of do-goodery? Check!

Before you head out for a shopping spree that may, in some, way, help you relive your childhood — hold the phone.  There are some very important things to consider when packing a shoebox:


Image taken directly from

First, you want to decide what gender and group you are shopping for.  OCC breaks it down into six different categories:

  1. Girl, 2-4 years old
  2. Girl, 5-9 years old
  3. Girl, 10-14 years old
  4. Boy, 2-4 years old
  5. Boy, 5-9 years old
  6. Boy, 10-14 years old

After you have determined how many shoeboxes you want to fill and what age group and gender it will be for, get a shoebox (or shoeboxes)!  Of course, in the GPP upcycling tradition, I would encourage you to reuse a shoebox that you have lying around your home.  However, if you do not have one, a great solution is to go to the dollar store and get a shoe-box sized plastic container (with a lid of course).  These are great for the kids because they can be reused and will last longer than a cardboard shoebox.

Feel free to decorate the boxes, but remember that on the day you go to drop off your shoebox, the volunteers will inspect its contents –  make sure it can be opened before it’s shipped.

Shopping time!  Now… of course this blog is all about saving money with style, but there is no reason to be less than generous on occasions like this.  That said, I have learned that all children, regardless of their socio-economic status, race, religion, or nationality, love A LOT of the same things.  Not to gender stereotype, but girls love dolls and boys love balls (I should write a song about that).  All kids love coloring books, school supplies, sparkly things, notepads, candy, sunglasses, flashlights, stamps and ink pads, hats, stuffed animals, the list goes on.  Adults often lose their sense of imagination as they get older, but kids really do appreciate the simplest things, regardless of their cost (as mentioned previously here).

Perhaps more importantly, all kids regardless of… all those things I mentioned above… all NEED some of the same things, too: soap, washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, and other hygiene items.  While most kids in the U.S. take these things for granted, many kids in “developing” or “third world” countries request these items above all others.  To make a great shoebox, strike a balance between items that are necessities and items that are great, fun gifts!

Of course, there are some items to avoid, and they are listed on the OCC website.  I’ll save you the time and paste them here:

Used or damaged items

war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures (many of these kids live in war-torn countries)

chocolate or food (hard candy is OK; I think OCC is concerned about melting)

liquids or lotions (leaking is the concern here, but bar soap and toothpaste are perfectly fine)

 medications or vitamins

breakable items such as snowglobes or glass containers

aerosol cans

In addition to OCC’S list, I’d like to add anything that requires batteries.  Unless you can send a lifetime supply (probably won’t fit in a shoebox), and considering that most recipients of these shoeboxes don’t have easy access to these things – it just seems a bit unfair to me.


Taken directly from

As I mentioned, I think it’s important to be as generous as possible in situations like this, but sometimes money is tight.  Every year, when Josh and I go shopping for our shoeboxes, we like to go to Dollar Tree first.  They always have great toys, school supplies, and toiletry items for… ya know… a dollar.  Of course they don’t carry a lot of name brands like Barbie, but who cares??

Then, we’ll usually follow up with a trip to Wal-Mart or Target to find anything else that we really wanted to get (and of course, handmade items are great, so long as it will be clear to the child what the item actually is).

I know the OCC list of no-no items says nothing “used,” but in my opinion, this doesn’t matter as long as the items are clean and look new.  Therefore, I usually will go to a thrift store and see what I can find in “like new” condition.  For girls, I like to get a little bag and fill it with girly things like barrettes, jewelry, headbands, et al (I don’t get scrunchies or hair ties because many of these children are malnourished and quite frankly, can’t grow their hair to any measurable length).  Thrift stores are great places to find these bags, because women who get those free cosmetic bags – as part of a promotion from Clinique or Estee Lauder (or where ever) – often donate these to thrift stores.  I fill these up, stick them in the shoebox, and it’s like 2 gifts in 1!

After you have filled up your box(es), you are encouraged to send a picture of yourself and a note to the recipient.  Then, print off the necessary label(s), affix it to your box, wrap a rubber band around the box, and take it to the drop-off location on the specified dates.

This year (2011), the National Collection Week is November 14-21.  You can look on their website for drop-off locations in your area, but keep in mind: even though the dates are 14-21, different locations do different things.  I had an almost-horror story last year when I went to drop off my shoeboxes:  The church that was my closest location actually stopped accepting shoeboxes after 1:00, however I didn’t know this (I thought they were open until 5:00).  Fortunately, when I got there at 1:15, they were still willing to accept my shoeboxes. (Huge sigh of relief!)

The moral of the story is CALL AHEAD to see when they are accepting shoeboxes; don’t just assume it’s the same hours or even the same days as all other locations.

OCC Processing 1

Taken directly from

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Operation Christmas Childs is a great idea, not only because it’s an easy and thrifty way to make a big impact, but… it’s kinda fun!  Again, here’s their website for more info:  Operation Christmas Child


So… get to work!  You only have two weeks!!!  Of course, I’d love pics of your shoeboxes filled with all the goodies, so  pass those on to me: and I’ll post them here.  I’ll be sure to post mine in a couple of weeks as well!

You can leave comments below:

Do you plan on participating in OCC this year (or have you in years past)?

Do you know of any other charities or projects that are GPP friendly, specifically small price tag, big impact?


7 thoughts on “Twelve Weeks of Christmas, Week 4: Operation Christmas Child

  1. I love OCC! We always made shoeboxes at our family Christmas parties as a kid. Great post about it. Lovely idea to include this in your 12 days!

  2. Thank you so much! We always get a few toys for charity donation, but it is too abstract for my kids to understand. This will be a perfect Christmas tradition to start! I like that they can fill a box for one child. This will be easier to understand.

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