5 Things Every Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Needs (+ a few good suggestions)


Are you packing your boxes for Operation Christmas Child?  Here are 5 things EVERY shoebox needs to have.  Plus some extra suggestions if you have the space.

Remember, you are packing a shoebox for a child that likely has next to nothing – not even things we would consider basic necessities.  Please, please, please don’t pack ALL toys in your box.  Yes, toys are great but please consider these things also.  Every child that gets an OCC box deserves to have these items also.


1. School Supplies

I know they seem boring, but every shoebox NEEDS basic school supplies.  Pencils AND a sharpener are a must.  Extra erasers are a good idea.  I usually only include pens in the 10-14 box.  Every box gets a pack of crayons.  I try to include a small writing tablet.  Wider shoeboxes can even accommodate a composition notebook.   Colored pencils (send a sharpener!) or markers are also nice.

Glue sticks are okay but you cannot send liquid glue.

Watercolors are okay but you cannot send liquid paints.

Scissors are okay to send too!

In a lot of countries, if a child does not have supplies they cannot go to school.  In the Shoebox Stories on the Samaritan’s Purse Website  one boy tells of the time he got a box that contained a whole pack of pencils.  In the Russian orphanage they were only given one pencil that had to last a whole year.  He was excited to have extra pencils!


2. Washcloth and Soap

This is a basic need we take for granted.  But each shoebox needs to include these items as well.  Soap should be bagged in ziploc bags (even if they are wrapped, and even if you pack it in it’s own case – which isn’t a bad idea so then they will have something to keep it in).   For the 2-4 boxes I usually buy a few packs of baby washcloths (you can get a box of 4 for $1 at the Dollar Tree) and include 2 per box.  For the older kids I pack a full size washcloth or two or sometimes a hand towel (like in the picture above).

In the Shoebox Stories on the Samaritan’s Purse Website one boy who was in an orphanage talks about how excited he was to get a washcloth because it meant he didn’t have to share anymore because he now had his own.


3.  Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Important update for 2017 – Toothpaste (and candy) are no longer allowed in shoeboxes due to shipping and customs issues.  Read more here. 

This is another of those basic needs we take for granted.  But I never let a shoebox gift leave my hands if it doesn’t have a toothbrush and toothpaste in it.  The little travel kit on the far left side of the picture was $1 at the Dollar Tree.  I like those because they have a case that snaps around the head of the toothbrush to keep it clean.  And it has a zippered case so the child has something to keep their items in.  Having something to keep their toothbrush in and clean is a great idea we take for granted!  So try to include a travel case for the toothbrush.

IMG_25474. Simple Clothing Items

This is something that is overlooked in a lot of boxes.  I guess a lot of people don’t think about it.  Socks get included a lot because they are inexpensive to add.  Dollar Tree has 2 and 3 pair packs for $1.00.  You can buy two 3 pair packs and split them up between 3 boxes with 2 pair in each box – for only $2!  Shirts are a great item to include also.  I bought a couple simple t-shirts at Dollar Tree like the one in the picture for just $1!  You can’t beat that!  Underwear is something to consider including also.  I’ve packed hats in boxes before – baseball caps for older boys and the “bucket style” hats in the 2-4 age boxes.  Shoes are good too.  I find flip-flops on clearance all the time after summer.  The ones in the picture above cost me $.90 at JCPenney this fall1

I avoid anything “winter” (toboggans, mittens, etc) because in the several years of “tracking your box” (since 2011) our boxes have gone to multiple countries in Africa and one to the Dominican Republic.  This all depends on your drop-off location (relay center) and which processing center the boxes go through.  Ours always go through Atlanta.  If you track your box this year you’ll have a good idea of the region yours will end up in future years.  Or you can call your drop-off location and they should be able to tell what countries that location will service or at least what processing center they go to.  Then from the processing center you can determine region.

Someone else also mentioned for older girl boxes gardening gloves and older boy boxes work gloves.  I thought this was a fabulous idea.!


5. Something to Love

I put a stuffed toy in almost every box.  Sometimes the 10-14 boxes don’t get a stuffed toy if I can find equally great things to include (like a flashlight, shoes or a football in a 10-14 box or extra clothes, art supplies or small purse for the 10-14 girl) but a box for a 2-4 year old or a 5-9 year old is never without a soft toy. Bug is a big help in picking these out.  Dollar Tree has tons of stuffed animals and soft dolls to pick from at just $1 each.

The children receiving these boxes have likely been through horrible things in their life.  A simple soft toy to hold can mean so much and bring so much comfort.  Bug picked out the bear above for “his box” this year – the one he was responsible for packing himself.   He held it all the way home from the store and before he put it in the box he gave it a big hug and said “It’s going to take a while for you to get to your new boy.  But he will hug you when you get there.”  This mama almost lost it.  That is one special bear going to one special boy somewhere.

These are some other items to consider putting in your box after you have added the 5 things above:

1. A Letter

Bug wrote letters for a few of our boxes this year.  He said, “Mama, I don’t think I can write 11 letters.”  I told him to write as many as he thought he could.   He ended up with 3 going to three 5-9 year old boys.  You can include your address in the letter and they may write back.  I got a letter back from one when I was a kid.  And a couple years ago I included letters and received a reply from the pastor of the church in Uganda where my boxes went.  I thought that was very nice.

You can also include a picture of yourself, your child or your whole family.

2. A “Wow” Item

That is Samaritan’s Purse’s term for the item placed at the top of the box that the child first sees.  Above I mention a stuffed toy.  But I always try to fit in one more WOW item.  For younger boys this is usually a ball or a small truck.  For younger girls, a doll or a jump rope.  I also try to fit a small boxed puzzle in each one.  I stay away from “characters” that they likely have no idea who they are and stick to puzzles with animals or something like that.  Yo-yos are good to include.  Stay away from card games with difficult rules that they can’t read.  Samaritan’s Purse says a deck of playing cards is ok to include so I stick to standard playing cards from which many games can be played instead of something like Old Maid or Crazy 8’s where they have to know the rules to play.  Older boys would like a flashlight with extra batteries.  Older girls would also enjoy a jump rope.


3. Cups, Bowls and Spoons

I think I have added sippy cups to 2-4 boxes before but this is the first year I’ve done bowls and spoons too.  Dollar Tree had the larger bowls in the picture above in 2 packs for $1. I just included one per box.  The plastic baby spoons were 10 in pack for $1 at Dollar Tree.  I put 2 per box – that means 5 boxes got spoons and it only cost me $1.

The sippy cup also came from Dollar Tree and went in a 2-4 box.  The little turtle on the left is a snack bowl with a lid.  They came two to a pack with a spoon for $1 at the Dollar Tree also.  I put one bowl and the spoon in a box and put the second bowl in another with spoons from the other pack of spoons.

I hope the children who receive these will enjoy having their own items to eat and drink out of!


If you’re interested in learning more on packing a shoebox, check out the details on the Samaritan’s Purse website here.

National Collection Week 2015 for shoebox gifts is November 16 to 23We all know these simple gifts provide much more than fleeting moments of joy. With each gift, Operation Christmas Child shares the good news that Jesus loves every child.

If you need to find a drop-off location for your boxes, you can find those here!

And I would totally recommend checking out the “Follow your Box” option so you can see where your boxes end up!   Here are the places my boxes have gone:

  • Uganda (2011)
  • Madagascar (2012)
  • Dominican Republic (2012)
  • Gabon (2013)
  • Botswana (2013)
  • Chad (2014)

Be sure to follow my Operation Christmas Child Pinterest Board for year-round inspiration!

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