A Hands-on Way to Teach Kids About Giving

Just a few day ago, I decided to do Operation Christmas Child with my kids this year, and I’m so glad we did! The drop off days for 2012 are Nov 12-19, so you still have plenty of time to do this with your kids!

There are lots of ways to give around Christmas time, but there are several reasons that I really love Operation Christmas Child. The first reason is that these boxes go all over the world to children that really need them. Also, I love how involved children can be in the process.

I took my kids shopping at the Dollar Tree, and gave them each a shoe-box-sized plastic box to fill. They were each making a box for a child of their same age and gender. On the way to the store, we talked about how these kids were less fortunate than us, and we talked about the things that they might like, and things that could be useful to them. I had already read up on ideas of things to put in the shoe boxes to help me guide them in their decisions.

Lydia (who is 6) was all practical. She didn’t think we should get them anything “fun” if they had real needs. I had to explain to her a balance of things since these shoe boxes are Christmas presents. We ended up putting the following things in each of our boxes:

  • Age-appropriate coloring book, crayons or colored pencils, and pencil sharpener
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap
  • Stuffed animal, ball, other small toys
  • Assortment of candy
  • A Rosary

For the older children’s shoe boxes, we included some simple craft kits as well. In the box for our younger child, we included a sippy cup.

My Very Honest Account of Executing this Project with Children:

I let my kids do the shopping for their own boxes, and I’m glad I did, but it was more of an undertaking then I predicted. I was shopping with 4 kids ages 6 and under, all of who had a box and were asking me at the same time “How about this, Mommy? Do you think they could use this?”. It was a little overwhelming. Plus, they kept asking to get things that were not good fits like piggy banks, books, inappropriate toys, and CD’s.

Each time they picked out something that wasn’t quite right, I was trying to give an explanation of why, and Lydia became frustrated that I wasn’t letting her choose things herself. Lydia wanted to get a little doll for her box, and she wanted the white doll, and I talked her into the dark-skinned doll explaining that this box is probably going to a little girl with darker skin and she might like to have a doll that looks more like her.Β  Violet (who is only 2) didn’t seem to understand exactly what was going on and she thought the stuff was for her.

While we were shopping, we ran into a 10 year old little girl who was also shopping for Operation Christmas Child with her brother, so that was really cool! The kids were bouncing ideas for the boxes together, and it was really cute.

Post continues after this brief information about the Catholic Icing Monthly Membership

Monthly Liturgical Membership

Catholic Liturgical Monthly Membership

Perfect for families! Each month you gain access to printable activity pages, crafts, home altar pieces, and more.
Never has living the liturgical year been so easy and affordable!

Packing the boxes with the kids was again, more frustrating then I imagined. My 2 year old kept trying to open the candy and soap. They weren’t good at packing the stuff in tightly, but didn’t want me to do it. Plus, there were 3 of them and only 1 of me to help. Eventually, I gave them some paper and asked them to draw pictures to include in the boxes while I packed them. This worked a lot better. Lydia drew a picture of herself shopping for the items.

Once we finally had them ready, I printed the labels for the boxes online. They have this really neat option now where you can print a bar-code to go on your box, and they email you to let you know where your box ends up. I think that is so cool! It will be another opportunity to bring it up with my kids, and they also email you information about the country it ends up in, so I’ll be able to read that to them.

When we were all done packing the boxes and the labels were on, I taped the boxes shut. Then I read that you’re not supposed to do that, so I removed all the tape and put rubber bands on them instead. I used this opportunity to tell Lydia about the importance of reading directions. lol.

Then I looked up our local drop-off locations. We had several to choose from- most of them at churches, but no Catholic ones available. I made plans to drop the boxes off on our way to lunch. We ran late due to a very long phone call I made to set up home owner’s insurance for the house we’re buying next week. We had to drop off our boxes on the way home from lunch instead, and the kids had fallen asleep in the car. So I had to wake them up. All 4 of them.

We took the boxes in, each child carrying their own box. Once they woke up, this was really precious. We found the office, and there was a paper for me to fill out while the kids put their boxes away. Violet still didn’t understand what was going on, and started to freak out about “her box” being gone, and then the nice Operation Christmas Child lady gave them each a sticker saying “I Gave a Shoe Box”, and a Christmas ornament. They were glowing!

They ask for you to pray for the children who receive the boxes, so we did that on the way home. I am so glad we did this- it was an awesome experience and I want to make it an annual tradition for our family! I can’t wait to get the email letting us know where our boxes went. They ask that you donate $7/box to offset the costs of shipping etc, so in the end it cost us about $20/box to help out with this cause. Worth. every. penny. πŸ™‚

I hope some of you will be inspired to pack your own boxes! I would love to hear your experiences with Operation Christmas Child in the comments. πŸ™‚


  1. I just saw a post about this tonight on a money-saving blog called Surviving the Stores, and had just finished clicking around the Samaritan’s Purse website when I saw your post! I’d love to do something like this with my children, and seeing both these posts tonight may just be the nudge that I need to do it! Thanks, Lacy!

    • Youn never know! I got my push this year from seeing posts on pinterest and wanted to encourage as many others as possible! πŸ™‚

  2. I have young kids too and we do Operation Christmas Child every year too. It’s such a fantastic endeavor and I feel like its the best way to help the little ones understand charity.

  3. I am doing Operation Christmas Child with my 5 year old son for the first time this year. At first he was pretty resistant to giving toys to others, but after he watched the videos on You Tube showing where the children live who get the presents, he started putting in a few of his own toys. So excited to make this an annual tradition, and the drop off is the same weekend we are participating in Service Day at our parish, so it’s a great opportunity to emphasize the joy found in giving.

  4. These shoe boxes are such a wonderful thing to do. Unfortunately last year I never got the email saying where out shoe boxes went πŸ™

    • I read on their website that sometimes the labels come off, and then you don’t get an email, but your box is still good to go. πŸ™‚

    • I also paid on-line last year and never received the email. I was a little disappointed not to know where then went, but still glad that they went to someone who would appreciate them. Hopefully this year we’ll find out where they go.

  5. We’ve been doing OCC for many years now and I agree, I LOVE it!!! It’s a wonderful Christian program and a wonderful thing our children can help do to make a difference!

    However, considering who is in charge of it (which is why drop-offs aren’t at Catholic churches), I’m thinking your rosaries might be removed. People go through them to double check that everything is appropriate (no toy guns & such, which is why you can’t tape them shut). Please don’t misunderstand, I do have high regard for Samaritan’s Purse & its mission! Just being realistic & giving you a heads up for next year.

    When they hand out the boxes to the children, they also provide a Bible & evangelize to them. It’s nice to know these children are learning about Jesus.

    You did well in using the plastic shoe boxes so the children & their families can utilize them repeatedly for daily needs.

    So glad you’re promoting this neat program!! God bless.

    • I thought about that. If the rosaries get taken out, then they do. If not, all the better. πŸ™‚

      • They don’t mention putting anything religious in the shoeboxes for 2 reasons: 1) The shoeboxes go to children of all faiths & creeds. It’s about giving a gift to a child who may not be getting any gift at all this year. 2) Some countries in which children will be receiving shoeboxes may be hostile to Christianity, making religious items very dangerous for those children to possess. When you look on the OCC website, it lists some of the countries where the shoeboxes go. Below that, it mentions that not all countries are listed for security reasons. One of the reasons I love Samaritan’s Purse is that they are willing to go into very dangerous regions to help people, including those ravaged by war. Sometimes, they are the only relief organization there, the others having been advised to leave by the UN. They stay because, if it is that dangerous that foreigners can’t stay, how much more dangerous is it for the native people, who don’t have the luxury of leaving. The need is that dire, & they’re willing to stay. If rosaries are removed from the boxes, it’s for the safety of a child in a particular country. The rosaries will still be given, but to a child in a region where it would be safe for them to have it.

        • The website actually specifically says to include Christian stuff in your box. Not Catholic stuff, but Christian stuff (which of course everyone on this site knows that Catholic ARE Christians).

  6. We did shoe boxes at church last weekend. This was the first year my whole family including grandpa did it and they all had fun! We watched some of the videos from OCC…these boxes are so appreciated! I think next year, we are going to buy a pair of sneakers, one for each of my children, and then pack around that…You know how it is for your own kids…someone always needs a new pair! This way we are sure to provide something that can be passed along when outgrown! I love all the opportunities provided for us to share God’s Love, especially around the holidays!!

  7. Jamie Peterson says

    We are putting together boxes as well. I am going to try to get our Catholic church involved next year. For now, we picked up boxes (they had cute cardboard templates you fold up) at my husbands (Baptist) church. I put together two boxes just with new items I had around the house (daycare extras, school supplies, small toys from my gift box, extra toothbrushes from our “extras” drawer, etc. . . ) but I really feel that I need to take my kids out shopping and have them select items and help assemble the boxes. Since I have to turn them in by Sunday, I better get on it! Looks like your crew had a great time with this project. Did you include a family photo and a personal note as well?

    • We included some pictures the kids drew. Normally I would probably be able to pack a box with stuff from around the house, but most of our things are in storage right now. I really am glad my kids got to do the shopping themselves.

  8. We just did this last week through our American Heritage Girls troop and will be doing it every year now I think – such a great experience!

  9. Our American Heritage Girls troop packed 49 boxes last weekend. The girls had a blast!

  10. We did this recently at our American Heritage Girls troop meeting! It was so much fun for my daughter and so important for her to think about other children having less than she does (money is really tight here due to being on one income, homeschooling, having 5 children, etc. – I’m sure you can relate). It was such a wonderful experience, and we, too, hope to make it a tradition with our family, next year involving all of the children. Thank you so much for your wonderful website! It’s always very inspiring, and I always find something great when I come here.

    God bless!

    • Yes, there are definitely times in my life when packing a $20 box would not have been an option for us. Although this is a much more interactive way to spend some tithing money. πŸ˜‰

  11. Our American Heritage Troop from St Jude Catholic Church in Allen TX just dropped off 11 boxes. Can’t wait to see where they all go. Great Service project for families and scouting units.

  12. Alicia@through-my-is.blogspot.com says

    Our church used to do OCC until the woman that headed it moved to Florida. No one ever took over the reigns and it was dropped. Anyway, I noticed today that our local Chick-Fil-A is taking boxes tomorrow. I was thinking of doing one but other things came up and I don’t think we’ll be able to participate this year.

  13. So funny, Lacy. I am reading this when we just got back from working at the OCC distribution center. What an uplifting experience! This is the second year we are doing the shoeboxes, and I have decided it is the best way for my young kids to experience giving. It is great because they can easily pick out the stuff themselves and they are encouraged to reach out personally with letters, photos, and pictures. We all were able to work tonight at the collection site too, even the 2 year old. I hope to make it all a family tradition.

  14. How exciting! I just finished packing 30 boxes, plus my own 2, for our church’s religous education program. I heard about OCC from listening to K-Love radio. I started it at out church 3 years ago and it has been a succes ever since. We assign an item to each class and then fill in the boxes as needed with cash donations. We ask each child to also give $0.50 each to offset the shipping costs. It works out very well. Being the coordinator can be demanding, but so rewarding. I could not have done it without the Dollar Tree, Christmas Tree Shops and Ocean State Job Lot (MA & RI). I have coordinated delivery with a lovely lady from a nearby church (non-catholic) and soon my boxes will be on their way. I plan on paying for my 2 boxes on-line so I can eventually know where they end up.

  15. Corinne Thomas says


    I wanted to encourage you to keep on doing the Operation Child and give you a first hand experience about children receiving them. I am a missionary and was In Ecuador at the time. We would go weekly to a Children’s Hospital and share about Jesus to the children there. At Christmas time we had received Operation Child boxes and were able to distribute them at the hospital. One child opened her box and took out one thing and handed it back. She thought she only was allowed to have one thing from the box. We were almost finished and had run out of the boxes that we had brought from the car. So someone had to go back to the car and get a few more boxes. A little boy said, “Please can I have a box with an airplane in it?” We tried to explain that they were packed in other countries and we had no idea what would be in the boxes. But, you guessed it – when he opened up his box – there on top was a put together airplane. He was so excited and we were too – that God had answered the wishes of a little boy in Ecuador. We all had tears in our eyes. The boxes are definitely appreciated by the children who receive them. So please do remember to pray for these precious children who for many of them this is probsbly the only Christmas gift they will receive.

    • It sounds amazing to see it first hand! πŸ™‚ That’s incredible about the airplane. It would have made me cry.

  16. Hi, I am one from the other end. Back about 10 years ago or so we were given shoeboxes. I am a volunteer at the Good News Foundation in Hungary, and we distributed about 400-500 boxes. I saw many people receiving a box, young, middle-aged and old, and they were all very grateful! For the necessities and for the luxurious things, too:-) Thank you all! “Your reward will be great in Heaven!”

  17. I just read your post last night and took the girls to the 99cent store today and our boxes are just about ready to go. I also emailed my MOMS group about it.

  18. My girls filled their boxes today. It was a great experience. We included a few prayer cards, a saint medal, a coloring sheet of our lady…etc., as well as toys and hygiene products. Thanks for this post. I had never heard of this project….really inspirational!

  19. I love this idea – especially as its something that kids can actually help do! However, I thought I had read or heard somewhere that this particular organization may be anti-Catholic. Does anyone know if that is or is not true??

    • I have gotten a few emails about various articles including stuff like that. It looks like they are big into evangelization, and of course, they are Christian but not Catholic.

  20. We dropped ours off today. Thanks for posting this, or we would have never known. My kids are 4 and 2. They loved everything about it and were so excited to stuff the boxes. I cant believe how much we packed in there- several toys, socks, underware, ivory soap, crayola toothbrushes and crest toothpaste, pencils, colored pencils, sharpner, crayons, eraser, chapstick, coloring books, scissors, Christain/Catholic/fish and bug stickers (foam ones too) rubberbands for the girl’s box, wash clothes, suckers, bandaids and a rosaryand crystal cross necklaces! We cheated a bit and took off some of the exterior boxes and wrappings to make it fit better like on the toothpaste boxes. Deadline is Monday. Oh better not take the rosaries out..lol the website only says no war toys!!!

    • Wow! You really did fit a lot in your boxes! I did read about other people online taking things out of the boxes to be able to fit more. Great idea. πŸ™‚

  21. I had never heard of this before, so thank you for posting. We went to the dollar store today and my 4 oldest children filled boxes. Great experience for all of us.

  22. Wow! This is a wonderful idea! Thanks so much for sharing! We will have to do this as well! Last year we made a Christmas Shoe boxes through our Church to support our local Seminarians at the Blessed John Paul II Seminary. It was so awesome to be able to make something for our future priests! Thanks again for sharing all of your ideas! God Bless!

  23. I teach both First Reconciliation and First Eucharist prep classes at our church. During each prep season, we include a service opportunity. This year, we used the model of OCC and had the families bring boxes and items to fill them. While the children worked to fill, wrap, and decorate the boxes, I explained that they would be handed out as part of our church’s social ministry work. We support PORT (People Offering Resources Together) which is a rotating homeless shelter. The children using PORT this year will benefit from the service these second graders provided.

  24. We too have done this for years, even before I had kids. One year I did it with my nieces and nephews (most of them were in those tween ages) – it was their Christmas present. I took them shopping and they got to pick out things for their box, we brought them home and packed them together making a party of it. I took a ton of pictures and gave them each a little album of the experience as their Christmas present. It was about 5 years ago and they still talk about it.

  25. I did it for the first time this year and even paid online to get a tracking number to find out where it ends up. It was a lot of fun. I help with confirmation at my parish and hope to do it with them next year as one of their service projects.

  26. I have started doing this with my children. A way we have found to offset the “immediate” cost during the Christmas season is every month we go to the “Dollar General” or “Dollar Tree” and get an item or two. It helps to keep the idea fresh in my children’s minds all year long – reminds them of how blessed they are and helps offset the lump sum. I’ve also noticed when we do it this way, my children are very willing to spend more of their own funds because a dollar or two a month doesn’t overwhelm them. When the finished boxes go out in November, they feel a LOT of ownership of the boxes. (Just my experience!) πŸ™‚

  27. Lacy, My children and I have filled shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse in past years. This year, I am very excited to have found a Catholic version of the shoe box gifts!! It is called Box of Joy with Cross Catholic Outreach. The website is https://crosscatholic.org/boxofjoy/ I frequently visit your Catholic Icing website so I wanted to let you know about it and am maybe hoping that you can pass the word along.