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15 Gifts and Tips for Your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

Do you need good ideas and gifts for your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox? I’ve been researching gift ideas for five years! Your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox can change a family’s life; filling your shoebox with helpful, thoughtful gifts doesn’t just make a child’s Christmas brighter. Your gifts can change the trajectory of a child’s life…and that can change the world. 

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox  Gifts and Ideas
Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gifts and Ideas

Last year, my Little Sister (we’re matched through the Big Sisters/Big Brothers organization) filled an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox for a 12 year old girl. Here’s what I learned from that experience, what I’m doing differently this year, and the latest news and guidelines from the Operation Christmas Child organization.

You’re in luck because earlier today I wrote 10 Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Coworkers. :-) I’m in holiday shopping mode! I dislike shopping – and I detest buying gifts and junk that clutter things up, create waste and strain on the environment, and make Jesus cry. That’s my motivation for trying to find the best gifts for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox.

Read the list of “what gifts to put in a shoebox” provided by the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox organizers themselves. The link is below, and I also shared their list of gifts and tips below. They know what the best gifts for the shoeboxes are because they literally go through each box and take out what cannot be sent overseas. I know because I volunteered at the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gift warehouse a few years ago, and I had to throw away tons of inappropriate and not-allowed items before repacking the boxes.

Here’s my original list of gifts my Little Sister and I put in our first Operation Christmas Child Shoebox, plus better ideas. Operation Christmas Child is the largest children’s Christmas ministry in the world; they collect donations of gift-filled shoeboxes for kids who don’t wake up and open gifts on Christmas morning. Note that the acceptable and best gifts for Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes change yearly – and sometimes even at the border of certain countries. Customs can also change everything. So, pack your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox with the best gifts you can think of, pray for the child and family…and then let it go.

The idea is to fill your shoebox with creative, encouraging gifts that are also practical. My Little Sister and I wanted to encourage our girl (we named her “Meeka” – more about her later) to express herself in writing and drawing. So, our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox was filled with gifts that lean towards reading and writing, gifts that both my Little and I would want to receive. We both love school, reading, and writing; shopping for Meeka’s shoebox was easy and fun. That’s how to make it a bit easier to find Operation Christmas Child gifts and ideas for your shoebox: find something that you have in common with your girl or boy.

What is an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox?

An Operation Christmas Child Shoebox consists of an empty box filled with gifts such as toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement. After the box is sent, you can track it during its travel. You’ll get an email telling you which country it’s in and if it was delivered.

You can also build an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox online by going to the Samaritan’s Purse website and choosing gifts.

My Little Sister and I chose to fill our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox with gifts for a girl, age 10-14. We named her Meeka, and decided that she’s 12 years old. That’s how old my Little Sister was when we filled our first Christmas shoebox. We decided that Meeka was smaller than my Little, with darker skin. She goes to school, we hope, but may live in an orphanage. She has short dark curly dark hair, and sometimes it gets frizzy. She has a big white smile, and she will be so happy to get the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox filled with our gifts!

15 Gift Ideas for Your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

Before my Little Sister and I bought gifts for our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox, we had to earn money for presents. So we gathered up all our pop cans, wine bottles (mine, not my Little Sister’s), tetra juice packs (my Little’s, not mine), and beer bottles (my neighbor’s), and took them to the bottle depot. It took less than an hour, and we earned $35. That’s a lot of bottle money! We had money left over – even after buying good gifts for our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox.

We shopped at the dollar store, and filled up our shoebox for $20. I tried not to think about the irony and tragedy of shopping in such a place for a girl overseas – and I definitely didn’t talk to my Little Sister about how I felt. But it was fun; we both enjoyed the feeling of shopping for a girl overseas, someone we’ll probably never meet or know. We tried to try to guess her favorite color, whether or not she likes to draw, and if she’d like a sparkly pink sneaker on a keychain.

Finding ideas and gifts for our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox was easy with my Little Sister. Since she and Meeka are the same age, she immediately knew if something was too “babyish” or too boring. It was fun to speculate whether or not Meeka reads, writes, or speaks English, if she lives in an orphanage or with her parents, or if she has a backpack to put things like a sparkly pink keychain on.

A pretty piece of jewelry – for a girls’ shoebox

what to pack operation christmas child shoebox

A Pink Dancing Ballerina Pendant Necklace is a pretty, unique gift for a girl in a third world country. Never underestimate the powerful gift of hope and beauty, grace and love. When you’re shopping for gifts for your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox, remember that kids in other countries have the same dreams, feelings, and ideas as kids in your country. We’re all the same; we need encouragement, beauty, light, life, encouragement and hope. We need practical ideas and support…but we also need glimpses of glory.

Toothbrushes and floss – but not toothpaste

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gift Idea
Bamboo Toothbrushes – Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gift Idea

Consider sending a Bamboo Toothbrush and Floss Set instead of the usual plastic ones (although, remember that people in third world countries re-use everything, including used toothbrushes!)

Ask a local dentist to donate childrens’ floss and toothbrushes, as well as other dental hygiene items. Not toothpaste, though, unless you check with the Operation Christmas Child website for current customs’ regulations.

The most helpful and informative way to find the best gift ideas for your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox is to volunteer at the warehouse! The organization needs volunteers to go through all the shoeboxes and discard inappropriate gifts. Volunteering at the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox warehouse will give you a great idea on how to fill your box with the right gifts. It’s also a fantastic family or small group volunteer experience.

School supplies – my favorite Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gift

Operation Christmas Child Ideas
Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Ideas

This year I’d include a Crayola Third to Fifth Grade Supply Pack – or something similar. The best Operation Christmas Child gifts are educational yet fun, practical yet encouraging.

My goal is to fill the shoebox with more writing and reading tools. Last year we packed our shoebox with too much junk: flimsy bracelets, cheap toys, candy. This year, I want to give my child things that will encourage her to read and write, and help her advance her education.

Girls’ keychain

Operation Christmas Child Gift Ideas
Hope Gift for Shoebox

Last year we sent a sparkly pink shoe keychain, which part of me balked at because it doesn’t seem like a practical or creative gift idea for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox. It was glitzy and glimmery…which is why my Little Sister loved it. And so might a child overseas.

This year I’d send a Hope Keychain with Flower Charm. Twelve year old girls aren’t practical, and they need flowers and hope! This keychain says “May the God of Hope Fill You With All Joy and Peace” from Romans 15:13.

Headbands and nail polish

When I visited the kids in orphanages in Africa, the girls loved when I painted their fingernails. Their faces lit up; they were mesmerized by the idea of paint on their fingers. Last year my Little Sister and I bought nail polish gifts for our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox, but I wouldn’t do it again. The shoeboxes can’t include liquid…but you can still send nail art!

The Creativity for Kids Glitter Nail Art isn’t the most educational or practical Operation Christmas Child Shoebox gift idea, but girls do love nail polish. My Little Sister and I also decided to include a couple of elastic headbands with small silver decorations.

Colorful pencils, markers, and ink ballpoint pens

Writing tools aren’t the most creative gift ideas for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox, but they’re so important for kids living in poverty! I lived in Africa for three years, and quickly learned the value of a simple pen and notebook. Send school supplies, because they can be used in all sorts of ways.


Ideas for Operation Christmas Child Gifts

This time, I’d give Meeka a hardcover notebook, such as Moleskine Classic Ruled Notebook. The cheap notebooks I sent last year would not last long – especially in rainy seasons, muddy classrooms, or even grass huts. We included two types of notebooks in our Operation Christmas Child shoebox: a pack of four scratch pads with blank paper, and a Disney princess notebook with lined paper. This way, Meeka can draw or write…or both!

We also included a pencil sharpener and an eraser, to keep her pencils pointy and her mistakes brief.

A “color your own” pencil case

Gift Ideas for Operation Christmas Child Shoebox
Gifts for Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

I thought the Color-Your-Own Bag or Pencil Case for Girls was the most creative gift in our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox! The idea of creating your own pencil case was very cool to both me and my Little Sister. Meeka can use the included markers to color her fabric pencil case. She can doodle and color anything she wants on it, or even leave it white.

The gift we should not have put in our Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

In the past, a Jolly Rancher Hard Candy Assortment was one of the Operation Christmas Child ideas that is appropriate but not the healthiest of gifts. But of course we need to include sweet treats! It’s Christmas, after all.

Last year we bought a package of hard candies from the dollar store, individually wrapped. This year I’d buy better candy, such as Jolly Rancher or Life Savers.

If you’re looking for Operation Christmas child shoebox ideas, make sure you read the instructions carefully. Soft, chewy candy isn’t acceptable – and either is chocolate or food. Appropriate candy for an Operation Christmas Child shoebox includes candy corn, gummy bears, caramels, taffy, gum and Tootsie Rolls. Make sure that the expiration date is at least six months after National Collection Week. Don’t include any type of chocolate, fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks, or drink mixes such as Kool-Aid.

The candy restrictions are due to customs regulations.

A green squishy toy? Nope, not in this year’s shoebox

My Little Sister and I included a green squishy toy in the Operation Christmas Child shoebox; I later learned it was discarded at the warehouse. We thought it was kinda cool – you squeeze it, and it bubbles up and feels gross. And it had a crazy ball inside it that lights up and flashes different colors.

It’s not something I would’ve included in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, but I couldn’t resist after seeing that my Little couldn’t put it down. Turns out my instincts were right: it’s not an appropriate idea for a Christmas shoebox.

Wrist bands that glow – yes, a good gift for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

Operation Christmas Child Ideas for Shoeboxes
Operation Christmas Child Ideas

Last year we packed a Hope and Faith wristband; it was one of my favorite Operation Christmas Child ideas even though it was cheap plastic. What does Meeka hope for in life? What is she passionate about, and is she living up to her potential? I hope so.

This time I might include Glow Light Stick Bracelets. They’re more fun and creative, and the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox is a message of hope, light, and encouragement. Plus, your overseas child may not have electricity or even candlelight. These glowsticks might represent more than just a splash of hope!

A letter from me, and a letter from my Little

This is the best part of sending an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. Both my Little Sister and I wrote a card to include in the shoebox, and we included pictures of us and our dogs. It was sort of like writing a letter to a pen pal, and we believe our letters will brighten up a child’s day.

These Operation Christmas Child Shoebox gifts and ideas may not be super creative, but this experience has brought me and my Little Sister together in a whole new way. Writing the letter was the best part. Remember that with each Operation Christmas Child shoebox you pack, a child in need across the globe experiences hope, joy, and the love of God.

A few last gift ideas for your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox:

  • Rubber balls that last long and bounce far
  • Hygiene items such as hotel-sized soaps, floss, etc – but check the rules first!
  • Homemade arts and crafts: kits, little books, finger puppets and more

And here’s a fun gift idea for an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox: make a themed version! Your theme could be their country, your country, school, dogs, or snowflakes (especially fun for kids who don’t know snow), love, faith, joy, truth.

Here’s the best long-term tip on what to put in your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox: keep an ordinary shoebox closet for the year, and add to it as you come across good gifts and deals. This is also a great way to buy holiday and other gifts for other people – in fact, I should add this tip to my 21 Gifts to Surprise Your Elderly Parents or Grandparents article.

Items NOT to put in your Operation Christmas Child shoebox:

  • Used or damaged items
  • War-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military figures
  • Chocolate or food
  • Out-of-date candy
  • Liquids or lotions
  • Medications or vitamins
  • Breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers
  • Aerosol cans

Here’s an updated list of gifts not to put in your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox. The items change every year due to custom regulations.

This year Operation Christmas Child says do NOT put these items in your shoebox:

  • Decks of standard playing cards (other card games such as Uno are allowed)
  • Food or candy – including gum, due to customs regulations
  • Used items (due to customs regulations)
  • Toothpaste (due to customs regulations)
  • Liquids or items that could leak, melt, freeze, or break
  • Shampoo, creams, lip balm, bath gels, mirrors, or glass, etc. (these can damage other items in the Operation Christmas Child shoebox
  • Items that can scare or harm a child: war-related toys, knives, and toy guns, etc.

The Operation Christmas Child website also says:

operation christmas child shoebox gift ideas
Operation Christmas Child Gifts and Tips

We would prefer that you NOT use backpacks instead of shoeboxes. Backpacks accommodate more gift items, which is nice for the child who receives it, but can seem unfair to other children nearby who must be given conventional shoe boxes.

Backpacks are also more challenging than shoeboxes to insert into our standard cardboard shipping cartons, and they can raise concerns when they arrive at Customs.

The Operation Christmas Child website has a couple ideas for keeping the cost low for the kids’ shoeboxes:

  • Avoid paying full price: Watch for clearance bins and buy in bulk
  • If there is still lots of one item left, wait! Often the price will go down even further
  • Use coupons. Some stores even match coupon books from other retailers
  • Shop when stores are clearing out excess inventory.

And here are a few ideas for a community-based Operation Christmas Child Shoebox: 

  • Get friends involved (they can help you find ideas for the shoebox, and contribute to the costof gifts)
  • Invite your co-workers to fill an Operation Christmas Child shoebox alongside you (bring brochures and boxes to your work space)
  • Get store managers involved (give them an Operation Christmas Child brochure, explain what you’re doing and why)
  • When you find a great deal, post it on the Operation Christmas Child Facebook page
  • There are many bloggers and regional Facebook pages that shareOperation Christmas Child gift tips and deals for shoeboxes – but you already know this, because you found my SheBlossoms blog :-)
  • Take Operation Christmas Child pamphlets to your child’s school or local library; it can start conversations about the reason for the shoeboxes
  • Challenge a Sunday school group to fill shoeboxes year round by bringing one item a month to church
  • Give your dentist an Operation Christmas Child pamphlet and ask for a donation of toothbrushes or floss (remember, toothpaste can not go into Canadian shoeboxes)
  • Host a neighborhood or community garage sale, with all proceeds going to Operation Christmas Child
  • Invite the media to what you and your workplace, neighborhood, or church is doing with Operation Christmas Child
Operation Christmas Child

To learn how Operation Christmas child shoeboxes affect kids around the world, read Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts by Franklin Graham (the President of Samaritan’s Purse) and Donna Lee Toney. This beautiful book weaves the moving, God-saturated story of the ministry’s beginning with the soul-stirring, Christ exalting stories of lives that have been forever changed by a simple shoebox.

For more ideas and tips, read How to Wrap Awkward Gifts.

“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11.


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