Some people start listening to Christmas music in October. Personally, I prefer to wait until the day after Thanksgiving. One holiday at a time, please.
But there is one Christmas activity that begins early here at the Yankee Homestead.
Every year around mid-October, we begin packing our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse.
Frankly, I often feel overwhelmed by the staggering injustices and hardships suffered by millions of people around the globe, while we rest easy here in the U-S-of-A. There are so many things I could do, but I can’t do them all and I probably don’t do nearly as much as I should.
But I can do something, and this is one of those things.
I didn’t even have children yet when I packed my first boxes.
I was one of those Coupon Queens, dubbed the Bargainizer by close friends. Since I didn’t have children yet, I had time to shop around, use coupons and get great deals. When I learned of Samaritan’s Purse and OCC, I knew I could put my thrifty skills to work and pack several boxes for next to nothing.
When our first son came along and grew old enough to understand, he became my Shoe Box Helper.
At first (around the age of three) he wanted to keep everything for himself. Eventually, he seemed to connect with my explanations of the little boys and girls in other countries who don’t really have a Christmas and who don’t really even have the things they need every day.
(This always reminds me of two EXCELLENT children’s books: The Little Engine That Could and Prayer for a Child. I love to tie these in with our shoe box packing, especially Prayer for a Child. For older kids, you could easily find a book, story or Bible verse to go along with your shoe box packing).
Now he is a wonderful helper and really gets into distributing our shoe box items across each of the five boxes that we pack each year.
At age two, Little Brother is not quite old enough to help with the packing of the shoe boxes.
(We tried, but it did not go well! I always forget how selfish and “busy” two-year-olds tend to be….perhaps some two-year-olds actually can help with an activity like this, but it’s never worked well at our house.)
If you do attempt it with toddlers, I suggest doing a lot of prep work before involving the kiddos. Like having all your items unpackaged/unwrapped and set out in a spot where only you can reach them, and then you hand the items to the kids, one at a time and supervise their distribution into the shoe boxes.
This is how it works at the Yankee Homestead:
- All year long, we (I) collect items. (See below for thrifty ideas).
- We have a permanent, designated area in our home where we keep our OCC stash. It’s a storage area where we keep our entire gift stash (for birthday parties, baby showers, upcoming special occasions, etc). In that storage area, two drawers are labeled “Operation Christmas Child.” All year long, we add items to those drawers.
- Around mid-October, we pack our boxes. This allows us to see any holes that need to be filled.
- If necessary, we purchase last-minute items to fill those holes.
- Shoe box collection is usually the second week of November. I believe this is true across the United States. See the details below to find a drop off location near you.
Ideas for keeping it thrifty:
- Shop school supplies clearance sales! I always pick up our OCC school supplies this way: scissors, glue sticks, pencils, pens, notebooks, erasers, crayons, etc.
- Shop dollar stores for plastic boxes, hard candy, hygiene items like toothpaste, soap, toothbrushes, washcloths, multi-packs of combs, etc. and some toys.
- Shop Target’s Dollar Spot, especially looking for multi-packs and end-of-season clearance sales. (See next point).
- Shop end-of-season clearance sales at stores like Target (Dollar Spot!), Michael’s, JoAnn Fabric, and more. I like to pick up little crafts and seasonal activities that are marked way down, as well as stocking-stuffer-type items that are leftover after Christmas. I’ve had the best luck after Easter and Christmas and at the end of the summer. One January I hit the after-Christmas mother load, purchasing tons of great toys like jump ropes, little games, cars, etc, at .25 each! That was at least five years ago, and we’re still using those items in our shoe boxes.
- Keep your eyes peeled for great deals year-round. I love to shop thrift stores, and have picked up new items like flash cards, small books and boxes of crayons for .25 or less.
- You know all those toys you get at Chick-fil-A and other such establishments? After your meal, while your kids are playing on the playground, place the items in your purse. Out of sight, out of mind! When you get home, place them in the OCC stash (see below). Take it from me, your kids will never miss them. (If they do, then you have a choice. Personally, I’ve never forced my children to surrender those little toys. But this year we accumulated enough Chick-fil-A toys to contribute two toys to each of our five boxes (that’s ten toys total), without my boys ever realizing they were missing. By the time Older Brother saw them going into the shoe boxes, he recognized that he’s survived without them and that he has PLENTY of toys and books, while some children have next to nothing. Little Brother, on the other hand, wanted to keep them all. That was about when I decided it was nap time for Little Brother).
Here are all the details, (also available on Samaritan’s Purse’s website):
Use an empty shoe box (standard size, please) or a small plastic container. You can wrap the box (lid separately), but wrapping is not required. Most importantly, pray for the child who will receive your gift.
Determine whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl, and the child’s age category: 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. Print out the appropriate boy/girl label by downloading the artwork to the right. Mark the correct age category on the label, and tape the label to the top of your box.
Fill the box with a variety of gifts that will bring delight to a child. Use the gift ideas provided on the bottom of this page.
Please donate $7 or more for each shoe box you prepare to help cover shipping and other project costs. You can give online by using our “Follow Your Box Donation”option, or you can write a check to Samaritan’s Purse (note “OCC” on memo line) and place it in an envelope on top of the gift items inside your box. If you or your family are preparing more than one shoe box, please make one combined donation.
Place a rubber band around each closed shoe box and drop it off at the
collection center nearest you during our collection week, November 12-19, 2012.
For locations and hours of collection visit our Drop-Off Locations page where you can find the nearest place to take your shoe box by entering your ZIP Code or you can call 1-800-353-5949.
Note: In my experience, most drop-off locations have a good supply of large rubber bands (to place around each shoe box) as well as the boy/girl labels.
I love participating in OCC because it’s a tangible way to make a small impact. And over time, along with other Yankee Homestead practices, I hope it will serve to reinforce the values we strive to impart to our children.
To borrow the words of Rachel Field in Prayer for a Child,
Bless other children, far and near
And keep them safe and free from fear.
Kathleen Henderson is the Yankee behind the Homestead, where she keeps up with Mr. Native Texan, three busy boys, a large dog, an assortment of chickens and an organic garden on three beautiful acres in Northern Virginia. Yankee Homestead is where she organizes her tips, tricks and resources for a healthy life. Favorite topics include real food recipes, gluten-free living, essential oils and home remedies, all things natural and nontoxic, plus mommy musings and homeschooling resources. Find out more on the About page