This afternoon I had the great privilege of volunteering at the local Operation Christmas Child processing center. (side note: If you are not familiar with the ministry of Operation Christmas child, I encourage you to learn about it — it’s pretty amazing. Each Christmas, OCC oversees the shipment and distribution of thousands upon thousands of shoe boxes to needy children around the world — shoe boxes assembled by everyday folks like you and me and filled with hygiene items, school supplies, toys, and other goodies. You can check out their website here).
I happen to live just a couple of miles away from the local OCC processing center warehouse (where all the shoe boxes are dropped off, inspected, packaged and shipped from), but for whatever reason had never volunteered there until this afternoon — and I have to say, it was a lot of fun!
My job today was to inspect the shoe boxes. For obvious reasons, each shoebox that is sent to OCC needs to be inspected before it is sent off. My job today was to look for and remove banned items such as liquids, war-related items, food, etc. (removed items were then placed in an “inappropriate items” bucket to be distributed to other local ministries, if they could use them) and also to add “filler” items to any boxes that were a little sparse (my counter was stocked with baskets full of extra toys, supplies, t-shirts, etc. to add to the boxes as needed).
I found it to not only be a fun experience, but an educational one. I saw a lot of boxes during my little shift, I got some ideas and learned a few things about what works/doesn’t work, and I think I picked up a few do’s and dont’s for packing shoe boxes. So, for whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d share them here for your own use (or at least for my own reference next year! :)):
- DON’T send any non-candy food items — this even includes things you probably wouldn’t consider “perishable” — like fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, etc. Also, no cough drops or supplements (There will be a lot of ministries in the Twin Cities receiving bags of Ricola after my shift today…I’m just sayin’). 🙂
- DO send candy of many varieties — For whatever reason I’ve always only send hard candy, like Lifesavers. Meltable chocolate (such as M&Ms) are still out of the question, but things like Skittles, gummies, gum, Tootsie Rolls, etc. are acceptable.
- DON’T send liquids of any kind — this includes the obvious things like mouthwash, shampoos and lotions — but also some not-as-obvious things like certain roll-on deodorants and even those bouncy balls with water & glitter inside them. (By the way, toothpaste is OK :)).
- DON’T send used items of any sort — even if you are just wanting to share that which you no longer need, this isn’t the place to do it. Used items just go straight in the bucket.
- DON’T send anything porcelain. ‘Nuff said. And, why yes, I did have to remove a mini porcelain tea set from a box today. 😦
- DO add variety to your box— add a good balance of toys, hygiene items and school supplies…try not to go too heavy on any one of those 3 categories (try not to pack a box of ALL toys, for example).
- DON’T send war-related items — the definition of this is anything with a gun or weapon on it. It’s not a “politically correct” thing; it’s a “many-of-these-kids-live-in-war-torn-countries-and-weapons-don’t-exactly-say-“merrychristmas”-to-them” kind of thing). Even things that you may not think of as “weapons” — for example, today I had to remove a plastic gun that “launched” (shot out) little airplanes. It was cool, but it was a gun, so…had to go. 😦
- DO be creative with what you put in the box. I got so many neat ideas today! Everything from play doh and little games to hand-knit items (great idea!) to a deflated soccer ball & pump. One person was even able to fit a fleece blanket in their box by putting it in a “space bag” (one of those bags you vaccuum seal shut). It was so fun to see the different things people chose to give!
- DON’T let your 3 year old pack a box…alone. Otherwise you might end up with a box containing approximately 12 used McDonald’s toys and a pencil. Not that I saw a box like this today, or anything. Ahem.
- DO remember the older kids, especially the boys. The most boxes we seemed to get during my shift were aimed at 5-9 year old girls. The fewest boxes we got were, by far, for 10-14 year old boys. Something to consider as you are selecting an age category/gender to pack your box for.
- DO include a “cuddly toy” — just because every kid needs a toy or doll to cuddle with. Just my opinion. 🙂
- DON’T include an Austin Powers DVD in your box (OK, so this didn’t actually happen THIS year, but it did happen to one of my siblings when they were inspecting boxes a few years ago. And…seriously. It’s just wrong on so many levels.)
- DO follow your heart as you select items for your box — Today I found some toddler sized clothes included inside of a box labeled for a 5-9 year old girl. I approached the supervisor and asked her if I should re-label the box to be for a toddler, and she said “No…we really want to honor the intent of the giver as much as we can. Let’s just pray that this box goes to a girl with a little sister who needs those clothes.” Another neat story I heard today was about 2 twin girls in a village. Due to an oversight, not enough boxes were sent to this village, and the girls were asked to share a box. Much to their surprise, when they opened it, they found 2 of every item — even 2 dolls. ~Chills~. So..if you feel like maybe you are supposed to put an extra toothbrush or a certain toy in the box, just do it. You never know who it might bless. 🙂
- And, most importantly, DO PACK A BOX — and PRAY FOR IT, TOO! It’s amazing to hear the stories of little lives that were changed through this simple yet tangible way of helping others and sharing Jesus’ love. There are still a couple days left to drop them off this year, if you live near a processing center…or you can even “assemble” a box onlinehere.
OK, so that’s my list. I hope it’s somewhat helpful! And if you have any other suggestions (or corrections!), please share them in the comments!