When I was eleven, twelve and thirteen, I spent a lot of time at an orphanage in Haiti. I was good friends with the children who lived there and I even lived there myself for a time while my parents acted as orphanage directors. I vividly remember eyeing the stacks and stacks of shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child, wrapped in brightly colored paper, waiting for Christmas Day.
This year, I decided I wanted to get back to the tradition of packing shoeboxes for kids who might need a holiday pick-me-up. I asked my two youngest sisters (thirteen and almost twelve) if they wanted to participate. They were both thrilled at the prospect and eagerly put their hard-earned money toward the gifts. I was so proud of them for their attitude and the excitement was contagious. We penciled in a shopping day and started looking for spare shoeboxes to fill!
This isn’t my first time to make a shoebox gift and I actually have the experience of seeing the receiving end of things. I remember what gifts were best received by my friends and what was not helpful. Between the three of us, my sisters and I made boxes for three different categories, a 2-4 year old girl, a 5-9 year old boy and a 10-14 year old girl. These pictures are of my gifts, for the 10-14 year old girl. The girls didn’t spend as much money, but we made sure their boxes were very nice and each item was hand-chosen with much consideration.
1. Find a shoebox
I recommend finding a men’s shoe box made of sturdy cardboard because it gives you the space and…er, structural integrity for the gifts you will want to buy. Big shout out to my friend Briana who brought me her boyfriend’s shoebox!
Operation Christmas Child has a nice website with ideas and suggestions. There is also a list of things they do not accept, but honestly–I’m very pleasantly surprised at how few regulations there are. Yay!
Since I was shopping for a 10-14 year old girl, I tried to include things that would appeal to 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 year old girls. That was kind of tough, but I did my best to make good decisions and not overthink it too much. I remember when I was ten I enjoyed crafts and cosmetics and at fourteen, I still loved toys. You can’t know exactly what is going to appeal to your recipient! This is what I chose for “fun” items.
Colored pencils and a mini-coloring books. Pencils are economical choices and the coloring book would appeal to a wide age range. Mini sewing kit and tape measurer…who wouldn’t want to “muss about” with such cute little tools?? A nice little jacks set from Hobby Lobby which includes a drawstring sack. Gummy bears! Washi tape! An adorable set of playing cards.
You don’t have to include clothes, but we decided to include an outfit in each of our boxes. Again, it’s impossible to know the perfect size, but I went with a girls’ large in comfy, stretchy clothes that wouldn’t matter too much. A set of thick, athletic socks and a gold bow brought it together.
It is fun, important and helpful to include practical items in your box. Kids in Haiti used to love getting a new pair of underwear or a box of bandaids. While neither of those items made it into my box, this is what I did opt to include: small cosmetic bag, loofa, bar of soap (no liquids will be accepted,) strawberry lip balm, tissues, a toothbrush that folds into it’s own case, toothpaste, a compact mirror and one of those neat-o magic washcloths that expand when wet.
3. Pack your box!
Make sure items will fit and your box is able to close. That was…ahem, a bit of a problem for me at first. I loved buying things and I kept picturing the recipient and adding more items. But I made it work. Again, a men’s shoebox is the way to go! Do not seal your box.
4. Wrap your box
Choose Christmasy gift wrap to make your box look festive, but make sure you wrap the box and the lid separately so the gifts can be examined and approved. The only problem with my lovely, manly box was that it was the kind which flips open (the lid remains attached on one side.) This makes it very tricky wrap!
5. Print and attach your label
Print your label here and indicate what gender and age category your gift is appropriate for. You can also make a $7 donation and receive a tracking label for your box! This was our first year to do this and we are excited to receive our email about where each box wound up!
6. Find a drop of location—bon voyage!
Find out where you can drop off your shoebox (usually a local church) and make sure you get it there on time! Send your box off with a prayer. You have played a role in keeping the spirit of Christmas alive!