Would you like to volunteer with your children regardless of their age? How about in your own home and yet still make a global impact? Would you like a heartening, uplifting, and encouraging volunteer activity to do with your kids?
I have tried various service opportunities but usually, my children were too young or it was too stressful. That is until we were inspired to host our own Operation Christmas Child packing parties.
What is Operation Christmas Child?
From their website, “Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. Our mission is to provide local partners around the world with shoeboxes filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies as a means of reaching out to children in their own communities with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We ship these simple gifts outside the United States to children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease; and to children living on Native American reservations in the U.S.”
Basically, you take a shoebox and fill it with items appropriate for a child in a certain age group:
- Boys Ages
- Girls Ages
We like to fill it with something from each of the following categories:
- School Supplies
- Hygiene Items
- Toys/Stuffed Animals
How we got in involved having our own Operation Christmas Child Packing Party
I never took Operation Christmas Child (OCC) too seriously. If I happened to have extra shoe boxes lying around in November, then we would pack something. About five years that changed for us.
That year, my kids had packed their own shoeboxes and we took them to a church to drop them off. We were the only people there at that time and an older woman working there took an interest in my kids. She began asking what they packed and showed them around at all the other shoe boxes that were ready to go to the distribution center. She suggested to my young children that they host their own packing party next year and gave us some materials to do so – boxes, CD, coloring pages, etc. This excited them – “party” was all they heard.
This excited them – “party” was all they heard. But I thought it sounded like a good project the kids and I could do together.
The first year we hosted an Operation Christmas Child packing party, we had a grand showing of 8 people (including kids), but we packed 54 shoeboxes. Not bad!
Our little parties have only grown since then. Last year we had 24 people and packed 134 shoeboxes!
Why Operation Christmas Child is a great family service project
- My children understand exactly why we are packing the shoeboxes. There are great videos on YouTube that show the kids receiving their shoe boxes, also videos of past recipients all grown up explaining the impact the shoe boxes had to them as a child. The videos are short and captivating for even young children to watch and understand the impact. You can start with this one then lots of others will come up as recommended. We make our own playlist and project it onto the TV during our packing party.
- I let the kids completely pack their own shoebox. Below I explain how we set out the stations so hopefully there is something from each category in the box, otherwise, it is their “gift” to pack. Yes, I do check all of these later, as sometimes well-intentioned 2-year-old packs all stuffed animals or all crayons.
- The kids can add their own card or younger kids can color their page and write to the recipient child about themselves
- There is a “Praying Station” at the end that encourages everyone to pray for the child receiving the box.
- Organizing and collecting donations throughout the year if you have space is the best way to make a truly successful party. My oldest loves to help organize while my youngest likes to look at all the toys and beg me to let him play with them. Whatever, some days this counts as quality time!
- My kids are old enough to help with the physical labor which is nice for me but it is also rewarding. We have to lug 100+ boxes out of the basement where we hold our event, then strategically load all the boxes into the car. We then take the boxes to a drop off location and load them all inside. Sometimes they are awarded at the location with cookies and hot chocolate but usually, it is just praise that no, we are not a church group, we are just a small family that brought together other friends to pack over 100 shoeboxes!
Preparing for your own Operation Christmas Child Packing Party
OCC collection week is usually for a full week in mid-November. This means you should have your packing party about a week before. This is assuming you have a lot of kids at your party and you allow them to pack their own boxes. When everyone leaves, I usually go through the boxes. This might be “Type A” of me, but I usually need to repack and consolidate a small percentage of them. The youngest kids often fill the boxes up with stuff they would like so it may contain only princess’ crowns and no school supplies and hygiene items. Or I’ll find a box that has one stuffed animal and nothing else. I usually have some leftover items that can round out these boxes.
If you don’t want this responsibility, then you can have it the same week as collection week. Have the parents help their kids with their boxes and even ask everyone to take their boxes with them to the collection drop off. You can just provide the space and community.
You will want to send out invites or a Facebook invite about 4-6 weeks before the packing party.
Why so early? Because you need people to save their shoe boxes and collect lots of items – preferably buy them in bulk when they see it marked down. For example – flip flops, gloves, hats, school supplies can all be found in bulk at the end of the season around this time. If you have a fairly large network of people you can all work together to find items like this.
A couple weeks before our party we get out all our tubs and separate it into the categories below to see what we may be low on. We send this out to the group.
- School Supplies
- Hygiene Items
- Boys Ages
- Girls Ages
- Boys Ages
- Toys/Stuffed Animals
In the past couple of years, we have made sewing kits and fishing kits for the Boys 10-14 and Girls 10-14 age groups. I use old prescription bottles by spray painting the lid so it doesn’t say a pharmacy name. Makes sure to take off the old label and put a new one that says “Sewing Kits” or “Fishing Kits”. Clearly marking them prevents them from getting tossed at the processing center.
- 10 needles poked through a square of felt
- 3 needles of different sizes
- 3 spools of thread
- Sewing scissors
- Fishing line (wrap it around
- Bell weights
Regardless, boy or girl, these would be fine to go into the age 10-14 boxes.
Flow of the party
I like to have a really casual party. As long as everyone knows what to do and feels comfortable, that is all that matters to me. I have everything organized beforehand so I am not shouting directions as we go. My kids like to be host and hostess so I let them do that and I usually pick up trash, make boxes, and keep the tubs full as it progresses.
If you want everything to run on a tight schedule, there are templates for a scheduled party on the OCC website you can follow. I let people come and go.
We provide some cookies and drinks and encourage kids to come.
There are stations clearly marked of where to start and we ask every guest to walk around the room and add one from each tub for the age/gender of the child they have chosen to fill a shoebox for.
In the invite, I ask for donations and I explain the cost of shipping each box is $9. I do not count how many boxes each person packs and ask for that much money before they leave. Usually, I get pretty much to the amount needed and I consider this part of my year-end giving as well. Also note, when you drop off your packages they prefer that you donate online. Every year I have people who cannot come to the packing party and they give a donation which helps cover the shipping as well.
We pack until we use up all of our supplies. Usually, the boys get bored pretty fast. I’ve learned to let them go play and get out of our way. The girls go to the end. My daughter said last year she wishes we could do it every weekend. It is fun but it’s a lot of work to host a party. And you still have to drop them off!
If this is your first year packing a shoe box
If you’ve never packed a shoe box for OCC before, I would encourage you to involve your kids and pack one the first year. Maybe watch the videos online and include the coloring sheet. Make sure you print off the follow your box label. Your kids will get a kick out of finding out what country your shoe box ended up in.
Basically, the process you just did with your kids is the exact same you would do on a larger scale. My children absolutely love it and they feel a real pride that they host it and completely understand how the whole process works.
We are in the process of getting ready for 2017. Stay tuned for a full recap of how this year’s packing party goes. I hope to reach 150 boxes!