How to Pack a Better Shoebox

How to Pack a Better Shoebox

Our family’s been packing shoeboxes for well over 10 years now and I considered myself a pretty seasoned shoebox packer.

However, my trip to help distribute shoeboxes in Grenada in October has forever changed the way I’ll pack a shoebox.

Between our distributions I had the chance to pepper employees with Samaritan’s Purse/Operation Christmas Child (OCC) with packing questions.

I was also able to ask a National OCC Volunteer and former shoebox recipient, Devon (you can read his story here), his advice for packing a shoebox.

Devon’s favorite toy from the shoebox he received was a Slinky. He didn’t know until about a year ago what it was called, but he played with it constantly!

As we were talking Devon asked me if I had seen the little girl who had immediately kissed the dog that was in her box. I had missed it! He shared with me how many of the children don’t truly understand what it means to love and be loved. Stuffed animals provide a way for them to experience love and give love.

Even the older boys were happy to receive a stuffed animal. I asked one of the older boys what his favorite item was and to my surprise he held up a blue striped beanie baby teddy bear.

Devon would tell you to be sure to include a Slinky, stuffed animal, a ball, and some candy. 🙂

Should I pack hats and gloves in my shoebox

I felt bad when so many of the children received gloves and hats. Clearly they loved them, as they’d stop mid-box to put them on. But I feared they’d never be used. Once we were back on the bus I asked Devon if they’d really use the hats and gloves. He told me that their cooler temperatures feel cold to them and that they would indeed wear jackets, hats, and gloves. Even at 12 degrees above the equator these colorful hats and gloves would get some use! Yeah!

From my conversations with the OCC staff, OCC national volunteers, and observing the children opening their shoeboxes I have put together 10 tips to help you pack a better shoebox.

10 Tips for Packing a Better Shoebox

10 Tips for Packing a Better Shoebox:

1. Pack a standard-size shoebox.

As tempting as it may be to bless the socks off of one child, bigger shoeboxes leave other children feeling left out. It would be like me keeping the giant, king-sized Hershey bar and me giving you a snack-size Hershey bar. It’s still chocolate and you’re happy, but you wish you had mine. Embrace the opportunity to bless two children, instead of just the one!

2. Include a baggie of candy.

I learned that Smarties are one of the very best candies to pack, because they don’t melt and they aren’t a choking hazard. Unfortunately I saw several pieces of candy that had melted onto items in some of the shoeboxes. Candy canes melt. So do Starbursts. You can include hard candy, just please put it in a baggie! (Side note: Check the packing list for your country. Not all countries allow candy through customs.)

3. These items are great for boys and girls of all ages.

Every child, boy or girl, no matter their age loved: flashlights, Slinkys, hats and gloves, stuffed animals, candy, balls, and musical instruments (like a recorder).

4. Every box needs an item that will grab their attention.

Consider a deflated soccer ball, a baseball glove, doll, big toy car, a Barbie doll, or stuffed animal. (Yes, that’s a chicken below! He loved it!!)

Every shoebox needs an item that will GRAB their attention

5. Girls are like girls everywhere.

They loved headbands with big decorations and big rings.

6. Boys like cars.

All ages. Even the oldest boys were excited to get a Matchbox car.

7. Toys that have stood the test of time are great choices.

Jump ropes, Rubik cubes (they knew what these were), yo-yo’s (yes, they knew how to use them), balls, paddles with the ball tied to them, playing cards, and Slinkys. They weren’t sure what to do with the Silly Putty and it was sort of hard to explain…

8. Pack something fun along with those practical items.

While school supplies are often much needed, a box with little else is disappointing to a child when everyone around them seems to have a toy in their box. Include a stuffed animal, small bouncy ball, or a jump rope. Give them something they can pull out and immediately play with.

Include a note or photo

9. Include a note or photo with your information inside the box.

Devon told me children often hang them on their walls. Don’t miss the opportunity to tell a child they are loved and prayed for!

10. Let the Holy Spirit lead your packing and purchasing.

If you feel God leading you to pack two packs of underwear do it! Devon told me about a mother who cried during a distribution because her daughter had received underwear in her box – she had none! You never know what or how the items you pack can fill an unknown need.

May God bless your shoebox packing and use the items you’ve chosen to reveal His love to a child this year!

You may also want to read:
My Message in a Box
Serving in the OCC Processing Center – Part 1
Serving in the OCC Processing Center – Part 2
What It’s Like to Give a Child a Shoebox
How to Host an Operation Christmas Child Packing Party
How Your Women’s Ministry Can Get Involved with Operation Christmas Child

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  1. Barb you are right! God’s got this! He’ll send those boxes exactly where they need to be. 🙂 Thank you for sending boxes and blessing so many children!

  2. Barb Lehman says:

    I use to worry about I should pack in my shoes boxes, hats and mitten or flip flops. But now I feel that what I packed in my shoeboxes the right child will receive them. My God got this. Every year I tried to find something new to packed. I like getting new ideas from people.

  3. Nancy – join the Shoebox Shoppers group on Facebook. I’m a member. I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful with both planning for our church packing party and packing our family’s boxes. 🙂 Be sure to see my post on How to Host a Packing Party – . Happy packing!

  4. Nancy Eichhorn says:

    this is so informative. I was just put in charge of our church collection and am looking for things for girls and boys that people don’t normally think of. My email is or facebook as Nancy noel Eichhorn if anyone wants to talk to me and help me get this going.

  5. Barbara, thank you for your comments! I know they were short on boxes for 10-14 year old boys this past year again. So please keep packing for the older kids!

    I love that your ladies group made sanitary napkins – some of the Youth girls in our group that worked at the processing center this year saw some in boxes. They told me they’d never thought about that before and how awful it would be to have nothing for that time of the month. There’s no doubt your efforts will be appreciated!

  6. We had a shoebox recipient from Romania speak at our church several years ago and she said that sometimes they run out of shoeboxes for the older children, so that is all I do now, even though it is easier and cheaper shop for the younger ones. This year our ladies group made hygiene kits with washable sanitary napkins for the older girls. The idea and instructions came from an organization called “Days for girls” online. It was quite a project but very rewarding knowing that these girls won’t be missing 5 days of school each month because of their menstrual cycle.

  7. Lisa – you are so welcome! So glad I could share first-hand what items were big hits. I scored a bunch of recorders after Easter at Wal-mart half off and was super excited to put those in most of our boxes. 🙂

  8. So happy to read this. I am packing for boys 10-14 and really fretting about what to put in and feel so much better. Now I know stuffed animals are not too babyish, neither are the toy cars and yes they know what a Rubik’s cube is. And my mother can rub it in that the old school recorders are still a hit. Thanks!

  9. Great tip Jolene! It can be tempting to stock up on items that are priced low, but if they don’t last we’ve done those children a huge disservice. I’m trying to pack the BEST boxes we can this year – it may not be the MOST we’ve ever sent, but they are going to be GREAT boxes!

  10. Please send the highest quality items you can.Last year I sent some toothbrushes I had picked up at a dollar store.Afterwards I ended up using one that I had left over. The quality was poor and I felt so bad I had included them in several boxes.This year I am clipping coupons so that I can send better quality items.

  11. Denise, you are such a dear! I miss you too, friend! 🙂 I love that God can use us as part of a child’s salvation story thru the simple gift of a shoebox.

  12. Cindy, Your suggestions are awesome. Thank you for sharing how we can serve with excellence. To show the children the love and how each box was prepared with thought. I miss you but I know you are spreading your ministry to your new home.
    Love a sweet woman Denise

  13. Sharon, thank you for your comments! You are so sweet! 🙂 I hope many will take my tips to heart.

    God really opened my eyes during my trip and forever changed the way we’re packing boxes. This year the focus in on packing the BEST boxes we can. I don’t even care how many boxes we finish, but that the ones we do finish we finish well!

  14. Sharon Meek says:

    Cyndee, I somewhat consider myself an experienced shoe boxer and also have worked numerous times in the distribution center, but never blessed to go on the mission field with SP. You have written one of the BEST posts regarding filling a shoebox (and I have read and looked a lot)! Also all the great and very good points of the process from the comments. Most importantly I agree with the post about raiding the closets and drawers. I can only candidly say it is just junk and it breaks my heart. Please buy quality items! They are as you pointed out very important to the kids who may have them well into the future. I see many posts with great ideas but some have items that just don’t have quality. I would hope your page could be read by everyone, but I know it will help many. Thanks soooo much!

  15. Erica, thank you for the great advice and insight! I think folks get stuck on packing as many boxes as possible, not realizing that the quality is far more important than the quantity. Those boxes truly are the ONE gift a child may receive in their lifetime.

  16. @Stase: It sounds like someone raided their office’s supply closet. How very sad indeed.

    I’ve read several articles written by people at inspection/distribution centers and it sounds as though some people simply empty their junk drawers into a box. Even if your church/office/whatever is asking people to do boxes, please don’t make that commitment unless you’re going to take the responsibility seriously. For so many children, this will be the only gift they receive. For others, it will be their first introduction to Christianity. If you’re not called to create a box that shows Christ’s love for that child, then serve in another way. Personally, I like to imagine the child opening his box and reacting to the items I am considering packing and I pray that I am led in the right direction.

    Great article! God Bless

  17. Stase, thank you for sharing your experience. Bless his little heart… Trusting God had a purpose in that box going to that particular boy… Just one little “wow” item (like a stuffed animal or toy car) would have made his day, I’m sure!

  18. This is so true. Good advice. I was there once when a 5yr old boy opened his box and it was filled with stationery. Like someone just filled it with stationery from their office- yellow pad, sticky notes, white pad, pens, pencils, letter pad, and two socks. As you know, the 5yr old boy who cant even read, much less write letters, was very disappointed. So people do need to know what to pack. Thanks

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