Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Pack a Shoebox

Recently I've found that several of my friends are preparing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for the first time. My former church has also decided to pack shoeboxes for their Christmas giving project rather than participating in an Angel Tree-type program. I really love working on my shoeboxes throughout the year, and am excited to see others joining in the fun!

I have a lot of experience packing shoeboxes, in addition to shopping for my kids, and I think I have a pretty good handle on what could go in shoeboxes and what kids living in poverty around the world would find helpful. So I decided to do a post about ideas for what to pack!

The way I see it, shoeboxes exist for two reasons: as a gift, and as a way to help others. I think it's a good goal to have a balance between those two things. When I visited my boys in Tanzania, I brought them each a bag of gifts, and I tried to include many things that were both fun and practical. Balance! And I think that's good for shoeboxes, too. That's why I try to include items that are going to be helpful and fun. That being said, I know people who lean more heavily toward the "practical" packing, and some who just pack fun stuff. Samaritan's Purse and OCC don't have rules as to whether a box should lean heavily to one side of that spectrum, because after all, this is your gift to a child. But I try to keep in mind the children who are going to be receiving the shoeboxes: children in poverty lead hard lives, and they often have to grow up too quickly. Many of them may not have any toys- they use trash for soccer balls and play tea party with old cans and boxes. They deserve to have fun. They also need help. The children receiving shoeboxes may not be enrolled in a program that ensures they have essentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste. Some of these kids only have castoffs to wear, or don't have any shoes. And a lot of schools don't provide school supplies- so if a child manages to get a (required) uniform and make it to school, they may not be able to learn very much if they don't have something as simple as pencils. To a family living in poverty, including things like personal hygiene items or school supplies can be a huge blessing.

Below I've listed out everything I can think of to go in a shoebox, both practical and fun. If you don't know where to start with your shoebox, try to pick a few things from both, and see how much room you have left. If you have any ideas to add, leave them in the comments!


  • Washcloth (regular or those fun "magic" ones!)
  • Bar soap (floating bars like Ivory work well for kids who bathe in rivers and lakes)
  • Soap container
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Combs and hairbrushes
  • Hair ties
  • Hats
  • T-shirts
  • Gloves and scarves
  • Shoes (flip flops work well because they're flat)
  • Socks (I like to find bright, colorful ones!)
  • Pencils and pencil sharpener
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Glue sticks
  • Manicure kits or nail files
  • Chapstick
  • Bandages or travel first-aid kits
  • Sewing kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Small flannel throw blanket (they fit pretty well if you roll them up tight!)
  • Drawstring bag
  • Plastic poncho (the little packet kind)
  • Kleenex (or fun, printed tissues!)
  • Tape measure
  • Fishing line and lures
  • Nails, screws, hammer, screwdriver (for older boys, in original packaging)
  • Plastic dishes (cups, collapsible cups, cutlery)
  • "Pillowcase" dresses
  • Bandanas
  • Mini wall calendars and pocket planners

  • Soccer ball with pump
  • Baseball or softball
  • Bouncy balls
  • Beach ball
  • Jacks
  • Playing cards
  • Travel games ("go fish", checkers and chess)
  • Card games ("Old Maid," etc)
  • Baby dolls
  • "Fashion" dolls (like Barbie)
  • Small Lego kits
  • Small stuffed animals
  • Toy cars and trucks
  • Kazoos 
  • Harmonicas
  • Tambourines
  • Recorders
  • Yo-yos
  • "Ball in a cup" and other simple handheld games
  • Tiny etch-a-sketch
  • Small purse
  • Plastic jewelry
  • Headbands
  • Barrettes
  • Hair clips
  • Bobby pins
  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Markers
  • Coloring books
  • Drawing pads
  • Construction paper pads
  • Stickers
  • Journals and diaries
  • Note pads
  • Balloons
  • Glitter and sequins
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Small craft kit (example: beading kit or friendship bracelet kit)
  • Slinky
  • Board books
  • Toy binoculars
  • Hacky sack ball
  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Finger puppets
  • Action figures
  • Matching game
  • Pinwheels
  • Kites
  • Play doh
  • Silly Putty
  • Glow sticks
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Watercolors and paintbrushes
  • Foam or balsa wood gliders (airplanes)
  • Marbles
  • Mini connect four
  • Rubik's cube
  • Spinning top
  • Plastic peg game 
  • Tote bags and fabric markers
  • Small purses
  • Watches (plastic, not glass face)
  • Fabric quarters (older girls)
  • Nail stickers
  • Jump ropes
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Folding fans
  • Candy*
*If you're going to pack candy, follow these guidelines. Wrap everything in plastic bags to keep out vermin and bugs. Don't get anything that melts, like chocolate. Don't get candy that's confused with food, like "fruit snacks", as those are categorized separately by customs and can't go in shoeboxes. Hard candies are good (mints, Werthers, those strawberry things everyone's grandma has, Lifesavers, Jolly Ranchers) as well as things like lollipops and gum. 

And here are some guidelines as to what cannot be packed in shoeboxes: 

  • Glass. Mirrors, glass watch faces, etc. It can break, and it's dangerous. 
  • Knives. Even pocket  knives or multitools with knives. These are gifts going to children, after all. Plus customs might frown on them. Knives are not allowed. 
  • Violent toys. Don't get an attitude because it's "not PC" or whatever. A lot of these kids come from countries that are currently or have been recently involved in war. The goal is not to remind them of that. Don't pack things like toy soldiers or water guns. 
  • Liquids. Including but not limited to: shampoo, conditioner, nail polish, lotion, sunscreen, body spray, bubbles, lip gloss, hand sanitizer, glue, roll-on items like deoderant (still full of liquid!) etc. Toothpaste may count as a liquid when you're traveling by airplane, but it's fine for shoeboxes. 
  • Food. Candy is not food. What is food? Koolaid packets. Gummies. Vitamins- chewables count as food as far as customs is concerned! Basically, if it's edible and isn't hard candy or gum, don't send it. 
  • Medicine. While things like tylenol, tums and vitamins would be beneficial to these families, they can't go through customs. And it's probably not safe to send them to kids, anyway. Don't send medicine. 
  • Money. This should be obvious, since most countries have different currency, but people still try to do it to be helpful. Pay your $7 shipping donation, but don't put any money in the shoeboxes. 


  1. My family is a Compassion sponsor -- as well as we participate with the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox program thru Samaritan's Purse. We have packed boxes for the past 3 years and are busy getting ready for this coming Collection Week in November. It is surprising and thrilling as to the great number of items one can get into a shoe box.
    In addition to the wonderful list of ideas you have listed we also send a Family Photo plus my granddaughter completes the "All about Me" info sheet available from Samaritan's Purse. We had a delightful surprise this week. My granddaughter received a letter with a photograph from a child in Zambie who received one of our packed shoe boxes. My granddaughter (as well as all the family members) was very excited when she got the Air Mail envelope in the mail.
    We watch for Sales all year round so that we can get the best values for our Shoe boxes and make our $$ go further.

    1. That's great, Bonnie! I usually send a Christmas card with a note in my boxes. I have seen those "about me" sheets in packing party kits, and they are so cute! They don't work too well for grown-ups, though! : ) I received a letter from one of my shoebox recipients once, too!

    2. I know this post is from long ago and I've plenty time still to even start thinking about shoeboxes, but wait... Kids will write thank-yous? Can you write them back? Can it become a relationship? Or is it just a one-time thing?

    3. Hey, Becca! I've only ever received one letter in response to the notes I put in my shoeboxes, and I've been doing them for years. Some folks report developing a pen pal relationship, and others never get any response. It's kind of luck of the draw, but Samaritan's Purse doesn't discourage continued contact!

  2. What a great post!!! I love all your ideas!!! At a meeting last year though, they told us that they want to phase out sending candy since it attracts bugs...even in plastic bags. And we were told that the kids love drawstrings bags if the boxes aren't plastic!! They said plastic boxes are also a huge hit because they can hold water. And basic bowl, plate and cup are super helpful because many churches help feed kids but the kids have to supply their own dishes. That was such an informative meeting!! Just thought I'd share it with you since you also love shoebox packing!!! I'm so excited to fill ours this year!!!


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