Operation Christmas Child- Giving From The Heart

It’s pretty common to reach out to the needy during the Advent/Christmas season. Whether you like to pack shoeboxes, choose a child from an angel tree, or donate to toys for tots, remember that you are teaching your own children generosity through your example of giving.

packing shoe boxes for operation christmas child


I recently ran across an article at We Are That Family called Dear World: Let’s Stop Giving Our Crap To The Poor and it struck a nerve with me. She talks about how often we give our old discarded things to the poor without batting an eye, even when the things are total junk. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but really, why doesn’t it occur to us to give them nice stuff?  Is it because we think they should just be happy with anything? You know… since they’re so needy?

I saw that Kristen had a good number of ugly commenters on her post. Now I’ll tell you, I’ve met Kristen in real life, and she is a sweet, caring, giving lady. She has spent a lot of time in Kenya on mission trips, and when it comes to helping the poor, she knows what she’s talking about.

I would encourage you to read her whole article, but what she basically boiled it down to at the end of the article is, if all we’re willing to give to the poor is our old junky stuff, that means we have a lot of old stuff to spare. Perhaps rather than replacing our own stuff, we should dip into our pocketbooks to give as generously to the poor as we do to ourselves. Wow. Now isn’t that a thought?

shoebox ideas for operation christmas child

“Live simply so others can simply live.” -Mother Teresa

One of our family’s favorite ways to give during Christmas is through Operation Christmas Child. The basic idea behind Operation Christmas Child is that boxes are packed for needy children in other countries, and delivered all over the world for Christmas. (This is national drop off week right now, November 17-24, 2014, so you still have some time to participate!)

operation christmas child shoebox ideas

I’ve posted about participating in the shoebox thing before. Take a look at these boxes I packed a few years ago for Operation Christmas Child. They are full of stuff from the Dollar Tree. Did I shop at the Dollar Tree for my kid’s Christmas presents that year? Maybe for some candy or stocking stuffers, but overall, no, I can’t say that I did.

Now, gander back about 6 years. I had a 2 year old, I was very pregnant, and my husband was still in college. Our family of 3 1/2 was living off of a salary in the teens with very little assistance of any kind. I really didn’t buy my kids anything for Christmas at all in those skimpy years. If I found some good things at thrift stores, I might pick it up and hoard it for Christmas, but I mostly relied on friends and family to send things. We actually didn’t buy any Christmas gifts for our own children for years. We simply didn’t have the money. 

But times have changed. Mark graduated from college, he works full time, and we are much better off now. Most of the Christmas presents given in our home now are very intentional. They’re usually book sets I want for my kids, educational toys, and toys that I consider “timeless” such as wooden train tracks, blocks, etc.

christmas presents

Given our income swing, I’ve put a lot of time over the years considering what makes someone “cheap” and here’s the conclusion I came to: when you spend more generously on yourself than you’re willing to spend on others, that makes you cheap. 

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Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

So when I am standing outside the pearly gates, what am I supposed to tell Jesus I did for him? That I donated my expired food to him and went back to the grocery store for new food for me? That I spent about 30 times more money on my own kids for Christmas than I did on him? That we bought clothes for us new at the store, but all we ever gave for him to wear was clothing fit for the rag bag? No, I don’t want to have to tell that to Jesus. Now, telling Jesus that I only gave used clothes to him, but I always also wore used clothes myself? Sure. I can live with that. See the difference?

As I looked up ideas for packing Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes, I saw so many posts about how to do it for really really cheap. I get it- we are trying to reach the most kids possible. And if you’re good at couponing, shoping clearance throughout the year, sewing pillowcase dresses, and crocheting hand made dolls with leftover yarn for these kids over the year, more power to you!!!

We just need to remember to be as generous to them as we are to ourselves. We don’t deserve more than them. It’s not owed to us. It’s not even guaranteed to us for the future.

Jesus says “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Matthew 6:19

So, I took my kids shopping. All 4 of them, without any back up. 😉

shopping for operation christmas child

Each of my kids packed a shoebox for a child of their own age and gender. You’re supposed to include a mixture of toys, personal care items, and school supplies.

It felt so awesome to be shopping generously! I didn’t find myself saying things like “Mmmm… that’s kind of expensive. How about this?” I found myself saying things like “Would you like to get that for Christmas?” or “Do you think that’s something your child will really enjoy?” or “Do you think that’s a good fit for someone who might not speak English?” I realized, I wasn’t teaching my children to be stingy, I was teaching them to put themselves in these kid’s shoes. When my kids found things they thought were a good fit, they were so excited. They learned a valuable lesson through this shopping experience: These kids are just as valuable as I am. 

operation shoebox ideas

Some changes I made with our Operation Christmas Child boxes this year:

  • They ask you to start with one central toy or item to be the “big present” and fill in with small things around it. We were very intentional about that this year. I had a little trouble finding appropriate toys (why are so many toys these days so inappropriate for children?) but it worked out in the end.
  • I included cotton clothes that could roll up small in each box. I was able to find small Summer dresses on clearance for $1 each. This was perfect because for all I know, these boxes are going to a very hot country!
  • I am very opinionated when it comes to school and craft supplies, yet I was sending generic-brand-junk in the boxes before. This year, we sent on-brand crayons and colored pencils in the boxes.
  • We sent fun kid toothbrushes. They’re adorable, and they really weren’t that much more expensive given that they needed to be individually packaged, so it’s not like I could buy them in bulk anyway.
  • I bought quality plastic shoeboxes, meaning I paid $2 each rather than $1 each. The plastic is better, and the lids snap on with handles. I read that most of these showboxes are re-purposed and continue to be used, so why would I send junk?
  • Biggest change? My thought process really changed from “How can we pack these boxes as cheaply as possible?” to “What will really put a smile on these kid’s faces?” And that was a big change.

You still need to donate $7/box to help with shipping costs. I had posted last time that it cost me about $20/box including the $7. This year, it cost about $30/box including the $7 donation. Remember that you’re supposed to be tithing anyway, so it may as well be to a really cool cause. Also, I could have really cut back on the cost by buying quality items on clearance throughout the year and saving them. Maybe next year.

These boxes were packed with love and thought. If I were walking up to Jesus and handing him one of these boxes, I wouldn’t be ashamed. He would know I had given him my best.

“He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Luke 3:11

The Bible doesn’t say to hang onto all of your extra cloaks for a rainy day- it says to share them. I believe that true generosity is what happens when we give away something that is worth keeping.

operation christmas child packed shoeboxes


  1. Ellie Fitzpatrick says

    Thanks for such a great post! We filled our first box last week and hope to continue the tradition. And I am going to keep my eyes open through the year for quality gifts to send.

    • Me, too! Honestly, it kills me sometimes when I find something on clearance, and I just don’t have a need for it, or it’s not in my kid’s sizes, etc. So this would be a great outlet for that anyway, if I can just remember to DO it! 🙂

  2. Awesome post. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I loved this post. Operation Christmas Child is one of our favorite times of the year, and my favorite part is that my son gets excited to help pack the shoe boxes into the cartons when we drop off our box. You can see him in action in this post: http://www.chartnc.com/2013/12/what-my-son-with-autism-is-getting-for.html

    Thank you also for defending Kristen’s post. It really resonated with me too, and I hated to see all of the negative feedback she got from folks who seemed to miss the point she was making. We are bringing ground beef for chili to our church’s service day tomorrow, and I specifically asked my husband NOT to buy the meat that is marked down for quick sale (even though we would buy it to eat at home, lol). I wanted to make sure we aren’t inadvertently sending the message that the people we serve don’t deserve the “good stuff”.

  4. I wish there was a Catholic Operation Christmas Child. The OCC literature explains that a Bible is given to each recipient but this a protestant organization and the Bible is, therefore, not a Catholic one. Great concept as it allows the hands on giving but I’d prefer to have the option of sending Catholic Bible.

    • Yes, it would be cool if there was a Catholic organization that did the same thing.

      • Last year I read how OCC (at least in some instances) is trying to evangalize Catholic children. When my daughter’s AHG troop was participating I expressed my concerns. I allowed my daughter to participate, we just made a point of adding a rosary and a coloring book about the mysteries. Tis year. Was thrilled when her troop collected shoeboxes to be delivered to a Catholic priest in a very poor rural town. We still added a saints coloring book for a little boy and a Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth pamphlet for the teenage girl.

    • Christine Scarlett says

      Do you know if they also include Protestant “how to get saved” type of literature along with the Bibles given to the children?

      • There are so many catholic charities to give to this time, and any time, of year. These boxes are so often sent to predominately Catholic countries and the children are encouraged/expected to attend religious education services in an apparent “exchange” for the “gift” of the shoebox. I am very uncomfortable with this strings attached approach. I spoke with Catholic Relief Services and they said they have a no strings attached approach and respect the faith of the people they serve. I know it is not a fancy dressed up box that gives us that “good feeling”, but we really ought to know what we are supporting.

    • Danielle A Hruby says

      There is a Catholic organization that does this called Box of Joy!

  5. Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings says

    Lacy, this is a great post. We haven’t participated recently b/c our parish isn’t a drop-off point and I just haven’t been able to get my act together to do one more thing. But thinking about what I’d say to Jesus about that is making me renew my determination to get it together. I think this is a great way to get kids involved in giving with an open and generous heart…and you’re exactly right. We are giving to Jesus himself. We should act like it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Love this post and loved the part, “…would I be ashamed”…
    So true!!!
    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  7. I am sorry I didn’t think about Operation Christmas before this for my parish religious education classes. I could have had the kids each bring a part to put boxes together. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see Catholic churches participating in this program much so it is not something I was familiar with. But at our parish we do have a major Christmas ‘giving tree’ program where the specific requests of local families, foster children and seniors are solicited. I know exactly what you mean about needing conversion in OUR thoughts about giving. People see a child’s request for a bike or a gaming system and I have heard comments like, ‘what right does the kid have to ask for something that big?” Well, their kids have the same wants as our kids–just not the parents who can give it to them.

    I am still reflecting on the outcome of my Thanksgiving lesson this last week with my 2nd graders. http://www.thereligionteacher.com/catholic-thanksgiving-day-lesson-plans-on-the-eucharist-as-thanksgiving/ After this lesson, including going around the room to each child and asking them to name something they were thankful for and lots of discussion about each of these blessings–at the end when I did the “Raise your hand if you feel you have a lot to be thankful to God for?” I had kids not raise their hand. And they weren’t joking around. They really did not have the sense of how lucky and blessed they are to have a loving family and home (I avoided talking about being thankful for things/toys). I am definately going to ponder on this and Operation Christmas (or something as part of our parish program) for next year.

    • Yes, I am truly thankful to have a way for my kids to be so involved with the giving process, and to open their eyes to the rest of the world. These are real people. I know what you’re saying about the angel trees for the foster children. Where else are they ever going to get a bike? How unfair is it not to have a family? It makes me so sad just thinking about it. I honestly don’t know of a better program for actually getting children involved. We do also make blessing bags each Christmas, which is another great hands-on giving activity. You can read a post about them here: http://allthingswithpurpose.com/2013/04/blessing-bags-for-homeless-to-keep-in/

  8. Right on! Loved your logical, heartfelt explanation!

  9. These Christmas shoe boxes are such a good thing. There’s enough for everyone, if everyone is willing to share.