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15 Good Ideas for Your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

Ready to fill your shoebox? Here’s a list of Operation Christmas Child ideas for gifts, plus a current list of what not to include in childrens’ shoeboxes. Last year, my Little Sister (we’re matched through the Big Sisters/Big Brothers organization) filled a box 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.

Operation Christmas Child Ideas

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Ideas

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

Earlier today I wrote 10 Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Coworkers, so I’m in holiday shopping mode! You can’t go wrong if you read the list of “what to put in a shoebox” provided by Operation Christmas Child. Ideas that they provide are the best because they know what they’ll be taking out of the box when they sort through it! And all boxes are examined before they’re sent overseas. I know because I volunteered at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse a few years ago, and I threw away tons of inappropriate and not-allowed items before repacking the shoeboxes.

Here’s my original list of creative gifts my Little Sister and I put in our Operation Christmas Child shoebox, plus ideas for doing better. 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 know what it’s like to wake up to gifts on Christmas morning.

The trick is to fill your shoebox with creative 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 shoebox was filled with “academic” gifts that both my Little and I would love to receive. We both love school, reading, and writing so this was easy and fun. That’s how you make it easy to find Operation Christmas Child ideas for your shoebox: find something in common with your girl or boy.

What is an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox?

An Operation Christmas Child shoebox consists of an empty shoebox filled with gifts and toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement. Individuals can also build a box online by going to Samaritan’s Purse. As shoebox donors, my Little Sister and I can track our shoebox during its travel. We’ll get an email telling us which country where it was delivered.

My Little Sister and I chose to buy 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 is – but we decided that Meeka is shorter than my Little, and has 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 that we’re working on!

Operation Christmas Child Ideas

This list of what and why we included the items we did in our Operation Christmas Child shoebox are a combination of practical and creative.

Before we went shopping for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox, we had to get money. 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!

Then we went to the dollar store, and filled up our shoebox for $20. It was lots of fun – my Little and I both kept marveling how exciting it is to shop for Meeka, and try to guess what her favorite color is, whether or not she likes to draw, and if she’d like a sparkly pink sneaker on a keychain.

Finding Operation Christmas Child ideas was easy with my Little Sister. Since she and Meeka are the same age, she immediately knew if something was too “babyish” or too old. 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 shoeboxA Pink Dancing Ballerina Pendant Necklace is a pretty, unique gift for a girl in a third world country. Give her 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 hopes, feelings, and ideas as kids in your country. We’re all the same, us human beings. Those kids need beauty, light, life, encouragement and hope – just like we do.

Toothbrushes and floss

Ask a local dentist to donated 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 best way to learn what to put in 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. This will help you find awesome ideas for your shoebox.

Girls’ keychain

Operation Christmas Child Gift IdeasLast 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 cheap, but my Little loved it.

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

Gift Ideas for Operation Christmas Child ShoeboxWhen I visited the kids in orphanages in Africa, the girls LOVED when I painted their fingernails. Their faces lit up, and the were mesmerized by the idea of paint on their fingers.

Last year we sent nail polish, which I wouldn’t again. Your Operation Christmas Child gift ideas can’t include liquid!

You can still send nail art, though. The Creativity for Kids Glitter Nail Art isn’t the most educational or practical Operation Christmas Child 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 GiftsWe 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!

This time, I’d give her a hardcover notebook, such as Moleskine Classic Ruled Notebook, Extra Small. The cheap ones I sent last year wouldn’t last long.

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

A “color your own” pencil case

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox IdeasI thought Color Freedom Pencil Case Kit 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.

Updated: What NOT to put in your Operation Christmas Child shoebox: candy and gum

Ideas for Christmas Child Shoebox giftIn 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

Operation Christmas Child Ideas for Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child Ideas

Last year we packed a hope wristband, and 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 year, however, I might include Glow Light Stick Bracelets. They’re more fun and creative, and the shoebox itself is all about 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.

Our Operation Christmas Child shoebox ideas may not be all that 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: with each Operation Christmas Child shoebox you pack, a child in need across the globe experiences hope, joy, and the love of God.

Quick ideas for your shoebox:

  • Rubber balls are cheap, long-lasting, and a gift any child will love
  • For great hygiene items, collect the soap from your hotel rooms when you travel (this may require advance planning)
  • Don’t forget that you can make quality items: craft kits, little books, finger puppets and more

And here’s a fun idea for the shoebox: make a themed version! Your theme could be their country, school, or dogs, or snowflakes (especially fun for kids in hot third world countries), or Jesus.

Here’s the best 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

And, 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.

So, this year (2016) 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 ideasWe 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.

I welcome your thoughts on these Operation Christmas Child ideas, and I wish you all the best as you pack your shoebox.

“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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