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Quality Matters: What to Pack in Your Shoeboxes

Quality items in Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts can be the gifts that keep on giving, as children grow up with lasting treasures that sometimes mean even more to them over time.

Here are some examples of quality items and reasons they’re important to include:

Quality items can become life-long keepsakes.

Some shoebox items are made for shorter-term use, such as pencils and clothing, but including a mix of those and longer-term items makes a well-rounded shoebox gift, said Sheila Waters, an Operation Christmas Child area coordinator in Alabama.

Sheila likes to share the story of Yves, who received a scarf in his shoebox gift at age 11. He was living in Togo, a country in northwestern Africa with a tropical climate. At the time, he had tried to trade the scarf for a soccer ball but now as an adult, he thanks God that he didn’t.

Yves treasures that scarf. It became a daily reminder of God’s provision when he moved to Buffalo, New York, one of the coldest cities in the U.S.

“It is a promise to me that Jesus knew my past, and He knows my future and what I will need,” Yves said. “Jesus is always a step ahead, waiting at the end of the line to keep me warm like a loving father does.”

An area prayer team coordinator in Florida, Sheila Lewis often will include a stuffed animal or a small Scripture-themed canvas in a shoebox for a 10- to 14-year-old as a keepsake. Handmade gifts also are great quality items. But the ultimate quality item, she said, is a photo and letter—particularly a handwritten one.

Shoebox gifts represent Jesus as God’s Greatest Gift.

Samaritan’s Purse ministry partners in over 100 countries each year share the Gospel of Jesus Christ—God’s Greatest Gift—during Operation Christmas Child outreach events. They tell boys and girls that Jesus died for their sins and rose to make it possible to have an eternal relationship with God if they repent and follow Him.

The presentation of a gift-filled shoebox to each child at the event is an example to them of what a gift is, since many of the children have never received one.

“A shoebox is a tangible representation of God’s love,” said Karla Sunderlin, a regional area coordinator in Pennsylvania. “We need to fill our shoebox gifts full because it reflects how God feels about us, how big and full His love is for us. A shoebox gift is a tool that God uses to help a child feel special.”

Filling a shoebox to the brim maximizes the gift.

Filling containers, such as cups and water bottles, with accessories ensures there isn’t any wasted space. This makes the most out of a $10 per shoebox donation that goes toward shipping the gift internationally and related project costs.

A popular saying among shoebox packers is, “We’re not packing air. The only air we pack is prayer,” said Gail Donnelly, an area coordinator in Georgia.

In addition to collecting packed shoeboxes as a drop-off location, her church continues to craft items and pack shoeboxes there during National Collection Week. That way, others can watch the process and use any items they might want to round out their shoebox gifts.

While avoiding critiquing others’ shoeboxes, volunteers point out the bins of extra items and ask things like, “Would you like to pick out a few things for your shoebox?” or “Do you have this in your box?—Would you like to?”

When Faith Witcher has volunteered at a shoebox processing center in past years, part of her role has been adding filler items to some shoebox gifts, but doing that isn’t the ideal, she said.

A goal of shoebox processing is to uphold “the integrity of the shoebox,” which means keeping the shoebox contents as they were packed, except for removing any prohibited items or shoebox donation envelopes. Then, if a box is more empty than full, a selection of filler items can be added.

Filler items also help those shoebox packers who can’t afford to fill shoebox gifts to still participate in the project.

Partnering with family and friends is one way to share the cost of filling a shoebox, said Faith, an area coordinator in Florida. That way, shoebox packers are sending a gift personalized by them.

“We want kids to know that this is the face of God’s love to them,” she said. “It’s your opportunity to personalize a box to show God’s love to a child.”

A shoebox gift is designed be a one-time, unique gift.

An Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift is intended to be a one-time gift and a personal experience for each child.

“Shoebox gifts are like snowflakes—no two are alike!” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse.

“Shoebox gifts are like snowflakes—no two are alike!” -Franklin Graham

Kathy Kendrick, an Operation Christmas Child area coordinator in Kentucky, encourages shoebox packers to pray individually for each box, including at packing parties where participants can customize a gift with different kinds of items as they feel led to in prayer.

“When I’m packing a shoebox, I like to try to envision the child behind the box,” she said.

Packing party participants also can personalize each gift by reflecting on the items they add to each box, being deliberate about how the gifts relate to each other—by color, theme, or use, and by writing a note for each child, said Amie Winstead, an area coordinator in Tennessee.

“We need to think intentionally and personally about each child—to ask ourselves, ‘What would they think when they open the box?’”

The inclusion of a “wow” item is meant to excite and awe the child upon opening the gift.

“We serve an awesome God,” Amie said. “When a child opens their shoebox, they should see how awesome our God is through that shoebox.”

National Collection Week 2022 is Nov. 14-20. Please pack a shoebox!

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Please donate $10 for every shoebox you prepare. Your donations will help cover project costs, including shipping (make one combined donation for multiple shoeboxes). Consider making an additional donation to help Samaritan's Purse go beyond the shoebox and expand assistance to children, their families, and their communities. Samaritan's Purse does not provide receipts for the value of gift items included in a shoebox.