I have packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child for 15 years now. I've been a year round volunteer for the past 4 years. I started out working with Church Relations and then, after our wonderful leader went home to Jesus, I became the area coordinator for the Mid-Texas area. I was so privileged this year to be selected to go on a shoebox distribution trip to Tanzania. I could not have been happier or more excited. I returned just over a month ago and while I have posted some of my pictures on here, I haven't shared with you some of the things that I learned. So here goes.
1. Take the items out of the original packaging. I've had some people ask me "how will they know it's new?" Trust me, kids can tell if something is new or not. Now my reason for saying to take things our of original packaging is that often, it can be really hard to get out! I had one boy ask to to open a package with a harmonica. It had the hard plastic covering that was sealed together. How many 7 years old do you know that can open that? After I opened it for him, he had a great time blowing on it. Another boy asked me to help him open a remote control car. It looked really cool and the person who packed it had included plenty of extra batteries for it too. I had to literally tear the box apart trying to get it opened. Finally, I had most of the cardboard torn off but it still was not free. When I turned the car over, I found screws going through the box and into the bottom part of the car. No one had a screw driver. I showed the screws to the boy & tried to indicate that it had to be unscrewed. I don't know if he was able to get it out when he got home or not. I do hope so. Here he is with the best I could do on getting the car out.
Another reason to take things out of original packaging is that you can get more items in the shoebox if the throw away packaging is not in the way.
2. Another thing that I learned is that heat is relative to what you are accustomed to. I've heard people say that they didn't want to pack gloves or stocking caps because the box might go to a warm country. The equator goes across the northern part of Tanzania. We were in Dar es Salaam, the largest city there. It's on the eastern coast by the Indian ocean but still only a few hundred miles from the equator. There were some children who were wearing sweaters! You can see 2 boys in blue sweaters in this picture.
When we asked why, we were told that they were cold because there had been a "cold" front come in recently and the temperatures were only in the upper 80's. They were not used to it being that "cool" and so they were cold!
The boys also LOVED the stocking caps!
3. Another thing is that people should fill the shoeboxes! I can fill any shoebox for less than $10 and I have filled them for less than that. And that is with good items, not junk! In another post, I will tell how you can fill a box for less than $5 so be watching.
The children were great about not crying or complaining because their box didn't have as much as someone else's but it really hurt me to see a box that was not very full!
Ok, you may have heard that they will be filled when they get to the processing center so you don't have to worry about it. Well, that is true BUT the people checking the boxes are volunteers and are human. Some of the volunteers have different ideas about what full it or about what is a good box. I DID see some boxes that we handed out that were not very full. Also, at the processing center, they depend on "filler" items that are sent by the collection centers. Those can run out! Not every collection center sends "filler" items. Most of the filler items are the smaller toys also. Sometimes I have seen some good things for filler but usually it is the smaller toys. Every shoebox should have at least one WOW item in it.
4. I was able to see that OCC is really a church to church operation. Of course, not all who fill shoeboxes are involved with churches. Many scout groups, schools and clubs fill shoeboxes and we are so happy about that. But most of the shoeboxes are filled through churches. When we handed out the shoeboxes, we went to churches in Tanzania to do that. The churches invited groups from their area or neighborhood to come to the distribution.
This is the inside of one of the churches where we hand out shoeboxes.
This is a group of children who were excited to be allowed to come to a distribution. This group came from one of the public schools in the area.
By inviting children to come, it allows the church to know who receives a box and to be able to follow up with the child and his/her family after the distribution. Knowing how many children are coming also helps to have the correct number of shoeboxes. It would be terrible not to have enough to give to the children.
5. Shoeboxes DO make a difference in children's lives. A gospel presentation in the children's language is presented to the children before the shoeboxes are handed out. It could be with music and with stories or just with stories but it is always in the language the child speaks and understands. The children are given an opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as savior. There is also a booklet called the Greatest Gift that goes with every box. It is in the language of the child also. Here is one of the ones that we handed out in Tanzania.
The children who receive a shoebox are also invited to participate in The Greatest Journey program. The Greatest Journey is a 12 week discipleship program written for the children in the language of the child. I got to see one of the lessons while I was there. The children came to the church on a Saturday for this. They were very eager to participate and were happy to be there. They were also very well behaved. I wish that I had taught classes where the children were this excited to learn when I taught in public school.
Be checking back in a few days and I will have posts on dos and don'ts of packing a shoebox. I will also put up a post with a list of items that are great in shoeboxes and some tips on how to pack several shoeboxes without breaking the bank. And don't forget to include $7 for shipping of the shoeboxes. For more information, go to Samaritan's Purse.