Change a Kiddo’s Christmas w/ Operation Christmas Child

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More Christmas

Pack up a gift donation in a shoebox to send to a child in need this season with Operation Christmas Child.

operation christmas child

It’s the season of giving! ❤️

If you love to find ways to give back and make a difference, you’re going to love this inspiring & affordable way to make a child’s (or many kids) Christmas extra special this year.

While we all know Christmas isn’t really about the gifts, Operation Christmas Child will provide kids in need a surprise during Christmas they normally wouldn’t have received – and it’ll all be because of YOU!

boy filling clear totes with christmas stuff

How does Operation Christmas Child work?

It all starts with a shoebox — seriously! You simply take an average-sized shoebox, decide the theme of your box with a gender and age range, pack it up with sweet gifts, and send it on out to a deserving child in need. You can even track your box with a donation-based label to see where your gift ends up.

HIP TIP: Want to help out without packing your own box? Consider donating a box for $5 through ThatDailyDeal, who will assemble and ship a box out for you! Even sweeter, they’ll even donate another box for each box you purchase!

Want a little more guidance to pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox?

operation christmas child

If you head to your nearest Hobby Lobby, you can grab a Christmas-themed tote in-store or you can even purchase them online if you’re staying home for the holidays. If you’re already shopping at Hobby Lobby, then this will be the perfect opportunity to add a few shoeboxes to your shopping cart and make some more personalized gifts for kids in need this year.

people with masks on packing Operation Christmas Child boxes

Once you’ve filled your box with items that will bring joy to any kid, find the nearest drop-off center to send it on its way. You can also opt for mailing in your boxes if it’s a better option for you.

Don’t have the time to build one yourself? There’s an option to build a shoebox online, too!

Collection week this year for Operation Christmas Child only runs from November 14th-21st, 2022, so don’t miss this amazing opportunity! 

items not to include in operation christmas child shoeboxes

Hip Tip: If you’re curating your own Operation Christmas Child boxes, please keep the above information in mind when picking out your items.

OCC boxes in Jamaica

Our Hip Sidekick, Melinda, has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for quite some time!

Here’s what she had to say about her wonderful experience: 

“I’ve spent many years packing Operation Christmas Child boxes from the comfort of my home in the U.S. This was something my family and I loved to do through our local church. I enjoyed the experience of packing these boxes. It was so fun for my kids to find creative items for the boxes. We would include a picture of our family and personal notes in the boxes, too. We started tracking the boxes and got to see which countries they ended up in.

We then became missionaries in Jamaica. After four years of living in Jamaica, we were given the opportunity to help distribute hundreds of Operation Christmas Child boxes. Can I tell you the JOY these boxes bring children?! It was absolutely amazing, heartwarming, and so fulfilling getting to see in person the difference these simple boxes made to these dear children. What a privilege to play a small role in this ministry.

Now that we live in the U.S. again, we’re already planning the boxes we will be packing in the coming weeks!”

Need some inspiration? Here are some affordable ideas for your Operation Christmas Child boxes that you can order or buy in-store:

1. Kid’s toothbrushes are must-have items.

toothbrushes on display in a store

Buy kids toothbrushes at Target

Starting at just a couple of bucks, you can scoop up some much-needed essentials like a toothbrush. Kids are always in need of small items that make a big difference in order to contribute to good general hygiene, so don’t forget to throw in these must-haves.

2. Paintbrushes & paint to make their lives more colorful.

Crayola Oval Paints

Buy paintbrushes & paint sets at Target

Score some super affordable and creative additions for your Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Some paint and brushes will make their year ahead extra vibrant!

3. A deck of cards for endless game options.

red and blue decks of playing cards in box

Buy playing cards on Amazon

A deck of playing cards can have endless options and they’ll even help younger kiddos practice or learn numbers and letters as they play! Whether they’re playing WarSpoonsGo Fish, or Solitare, they’ll have many entertainment options in one gift!

4. Coloring books & crayons to tune into their creative side.

hand holding a box of mondo llama crayons

Buy coloring books & crayons at Target

A coloring book and crayons will be a gift any kid will enjoy playing with! Not only will they get to express their creativity on paper, but they’ll get to surprise others with their masterpieces.

5. Surprise them with Mini Brands!

hand holding mini brands balls sitting on table

Buy Mini Brands on Amazon

If you’re looking to spend a little more on your box, consider throwing in one of these fun surprise ball Mini Brands! Each one is filled with miniature brands that could make any playtime more fun!

6. Keep their hands busy with fidget toys.

Monkey noodle sensory toys on a counter

Buy a pack of them on Amazon

A monkey noodle that takes up little space and can keep kid’s hands busy will be the perfect addition to your Operation Christmas Child shoebox! Not only will these keep kids occupied but they can even help kids who experience anxious tendencies.

Even better, there are 5 in a box for less than $10 so you can put one in each box if you’re doing multiple shoeboxes this year!

We love Monkey Noodles – read our full review here!

7. Stickers are simple additions that won’t take up tons of space.

pack of colorful stickers on sheet

Buy packs of stickers on Amazon

A fun pack of stickers will take up little space in your shoebox, but they’re plenty more fun! Plus, when it comes to kids, you just can’t go wrong with stickers! These are sure to bring joy to any little one and if you’re planning to add coloring books, they’ll have the perfect place to stick them.

8. Add a highly sought-after gift idea like some miniature squishies.

various types of small squishies in bags on counter

Buy a pack of them on Amazon

A pack of miniature squishies is another great gift idea if you’re looking to put together multiple surprise boxes for your donation. As an idea, you can order this 20-pack of miniature squishies for just $14.99 so each squishie per box will cost you less than a dollar!

9. Grab some funny Mad Libs to keep them laughing even after the holidays.

hand holding a mad libs book with dog on front

Buy Mad Libs on Amazon

Mad Libs is a nostalgic gift idea that will keep kids laughing after every page! They’ll get to practice their English verbs, adjectives, nouns, and more while reading hilarious stories they’ll come up with all on their own!

10. Keep them warm with a new hat & mittens for winter.

kids hats and mittens sets hanging on store shelf

Buy sets of hats & mittens at Target

There’s no denying that any kiddo in need this Christmas could definitely use a set of mittens and a hat to keep warm! If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, you can find very affordable (& cute) sets over on Target’s website that will be sure to put a smile on any kiddo’s face!

Want to give back even more this holiday season? Check out our Reverse Advent Calendar idea!

About the writer:

Liz has over a decade of experience writing about coupons and frugal living. She’s always searching for the best deals and loves helping people save!

Join The Discussion

Comments 54

  1. Deb

    Toothpaste and candy are not allowed in OCC boxes.

  2. Materof6

    Thanks so much for posting this!!!

  3. Happy Aunt

    Sometimes fast food kids meals are just the right amount of food for me, so I will save the toys from these meals and put them in these boxes. It’s a win for all of us.

  4. Becca

    Love doing this with my kids!! Great organization!!!

  5. Emily

    I love the heart behind this post and these boxes but as someone who lives in Africa most of the time and who has worked in a samaritans purse hospital where these boxes were give to the children who were admitted through the year (Muslim country so they weren’t handed out at Christmas), I would encourage people to really think about what they put in these boxes. You can find toothbrushes and toothpaste almost anywhere in the world. The mad libs are likely going to just be scribble paper because chances are, the kids won’t speak English. Those monkey noodles and squish toys are fun but they will instantly get nasty from the conditions these kids live in and they don’t have water to really clean them a lot of times (I’ve seen these things get instantly dirty in our house that doesn’t have a dirt floor and is mostly clean). I would encourage people that if they are going to pack and send a box to buy some quality items and not dollar tree junk which is what we see a lot. Consider investing in some better quality things that won’t just be thrown out or broken. Also consider if you had no English and had never seen a toy if you would know what to do with it. I’ve been in many homes where a mom has pulled out a box and asked me what some random thing their child got from their sponsor was and then looked at me like I was crazy when I explained it to them. Stuffed animals are almost always a hit, good pens and colored pencils and crayons, clothing items (I’d be cautious about hats and gloves because not all of these get sent to cold places although It would work for some). Also, if you really want to make a difference, find an organization that sources things directly to give to people. They will know what people really need or would cherish and they can buy from local shops which will really make a difference in the community. A lot of these boxes incur heavy import fees that local churches have to come out with the money for. Others end up in the wrong hands and I’ve seen people selling them. I do not want to discourage people from doing this because I think it is a way to teach our kids to look outside ourselves to the needs of others but sometimes it becomes all about a feel good experience for ourselves and less of a blessing for others so just consider this when packing yours. I love the generous spirit in this group and hope this doesn’t sound negative-I just wanted people to be aware of what this looks like in reality.

    • Cat

      That is a really good post, and by finding an organization that purchases items locally, you’ll also be helping their economy. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

      • Kat

        Wow! This was an awesome read, thank you for taking the time to write this. I always wonder where they end up and if the kids even like/use what’s in them. We usually do soccer balls with pumps, flashlights with a bunch of spare batteries, a nice water bottle, stationary kits, etc.

        • Emily

          These are great items! I’m sure they are enjoyed and very useful!

    • Michelle B

      Really interesting info, Emily. I’m glad you posted it so we can consider.

    • Rose

      Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • Kathleen

      Thank you for such a clear response! I think many times people don’t think of who will be receiving the boxes, like you said, so this was a great reminder

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks SO very much for taking a moment to share this information! 💖 We truly appreciate it.

    • saraeediger

      Yes. We have friends that are missionaries in Africa and they said the exact same thing. They love the heart behind it but unfortunately,where they are at, the boxes are typically taken and the items in the boxes are sold. Very rare that the children get anything out of it and if they do, they mentioned the outrageous amount of money the churches have to come up with to receive them.

      • Lunafalls

        Africa is just one of dozens of regions in the world where the boxes get shipped. I’m sure circumstances vary greatly by country.

        I don’t think Samaritan’s Purse would be putting so much effort into this project year after year if MOST of the boxes didn’t end up helping children as intended — Why would they?

    • Rae

      You pay the $9. Shipping yourself. By mail or online. It is stated in the instructions. So local churches will not be burdened by this. Yes, I agree about being thoughtful of what you put into the box. 🙂

      • molly

        Perhaps that pays for Samaritan Purse’s expenses to get the box to certain general areas. There may be additional local fees and transport needs once the boxes arrive–hence the observations from those on the ground in these regions. I pay the box fees each year, but I don’t doubt that local churches might also get burdened. This is an eye-opening post.

    • rocme2

      I have to say that I was cringing just from the length of your comment because I completely expected it to be a diatribe…but I’m pleased to say that I was wrong! I love and agree with everything you wrote! Sometimes we have the heart, but we’re still not giving our best and “something is better than nothing” is the wrong attitude. Thank you for reminding us to give purposefully.

    • Brandi

      Thank you for the good information. I did 3 this year and tried to make sure I pack good quality items that would be both wanted and needed. Hand towels which I twisted into teddy bears, soccer balls with pumps, mini barbies (I used magazine pages to make the box look like a dollhouse), mini rubix cubes, fishing sets, harmonicas,etc. I also included solar powered calculators like suggested in the pamphlets but wondered if their number system was different and if they would even be able to use them????

      • Heather

        Hi Brandi! Where did you find the deflated soccer balls and pumps??

    • abby-2

      I agree with what you are saying! I live in Indonesia, and had the opportunity to hand out boxes a few years ago. Sadly, the local church had to pay a lot of money to get the boxes sent to their remote location from the distribution center in the capital city. The boxes had been sitting in shipping containers for several years at that point and we had to go through and throw out anything that was spoiled. Please consider what those are saying who have actually been there and seen how the boxes are received. Yes the kids love presents, but cheaply made trinkets are readily available almost all over the world now, so a little effort into quality rather that quantity goes a long way. Pay the extra dollar for good quality crayons, and simple but strong toys that will translate to a child who doesn’t speak English. Stuffed animals are great, clothing like T-shirt’s or leggings are very appreciated!

    • Luna

      I agree. I lived in Latin America for years. Books in English, cheap toys that get broken easily, and toys that are not easily translated to other cultures were all popular. Not great ideas. This is a loving idea but sometimes people do it to give themselves a pat on the back and do not consider other cultures. Just an opinion of a former university student in Latin America.

    • jennifer-83

      Thank you, I’ve been wondering how helpful these boxes really are.

    • molly

      Wow, thank you. I’ve filled shoeboxes for years with my kids, and this was really informative. Will definitely think about these points when we next give.

  6. Karen

    This is a great organization, for sure. We participate every year. But just to mention, your local communities need your help as well, so please check your local food pantry, school district pantries etc. Many are hurting in this trying time. God bless!

  7. GAmommyof4

    Thanks for the reminder! My kids look forward to packing a box and sending it every year!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      How fun and sweet! You’re welcome!

  8. Kimberly B

    I have been doing these boxes since about 1993. They are great.

    I suggest the following items…. HYGIENE: cotton socks, soap, toothbrush, hair ties, comb, brush, lip balm, band-aids, wash cloth, and for the older females, washable sanitary femanine pads. In many countries girls stop attending school simply because they have no supplies for their period. I stuff all the small items I can into a small lidded plastic cup or thermous.

    TOYS: Rubix cube, UNO, standard cards, bouncy balls, stuffed animals, beads, charms, pins, stickers, Jacks, marbles, Chineese Jump Rope, Matchbox cars, Slinky. Keep in mind that it will likely go to a country that doesn’t read English, so items like GoFish, or Old Maid, or cards with just numbers are best.

    SCHOOL SUPPLIES: crayons, colored pencils, pencils, erasers, small notebooks, pencil sharpeners, pencil cases, 6″ ruler or protractor.

    I also make a sewing kit with my old Altoid tins and include a pack of sewing needles, some thread, and buttons that I cut off old shirts. It takes up very little space and can be useful.

    FOR 2020: Facemasks!!!!

    I completely agre with the prior post. Don’t buy cheap dollar items that will break. It would be heartbraking for the child. These countries get enough of America’s garbage without adding to it.

    • Emily

      This is a great list! I especially love the reusable pad idea (as long as there are picture instructions so they know what it’s for). And the sewing kit is genius and useful! And the reusable water bottles-these are hot items. Thanks for sharing!

  9. janetnelson

    Thank you for posting about OCC! It is such an important ministry that blesses children across the globe! ❤️

  10. Amy

    I have worked in a processing center many times, and spoken to people who have physically attended distribution trips. The key is to focus on your “Wow” item. One larger, quality thing. Examples are a soccer ball with a pump, a stuffed animal, or a doll. Then add some hygiene items, school supplies, and other small items like plastic utensils, water bottles. I was told by a permanent employee of the organization that something to write on and to write with is essentially the “ticket” for some children to be allowed to attend school. I agree with the above post, do not send anything written in English. The brands and items children here value are not the same as the children that receive the boxes. So trendy fad toys do not translate well. Classic, long-lasting, durable items are bettter.

  11. E

    We love filling shoeboxes! A girl I nannied for had received one at the orphanage she was at before she got adopted. She said her favorite thing was the hair bows and barretes. My mom and I spent quite a bit of this spring lockdown sewing dolls, dresses, bows and pencil pouches for shoeboxes. Last year I got super cute stuffed animals on clearance after Christmas at Walmart for 75 cents, normally the $3 stuffed animals. After living overseas in Latin America for 5 years, and always hearing how hard it is for families to afford school supplies, we always make sure the boxes have crayons, pens, pencils, etc and some sort of notebook or coloring book.
    Also, look around for local organizations that are helping families out for Christmas this year. I didn’t use any gifts from my gift closet this year because no kids have had birthday parties, so I am clearing it out and donating what I had to a local organization that helps families out for Christmas. Thanks to H2S for all the deals and we are very grateful we haven’t been hit economically by the pandemic so we are able to give back a little more than usual this year!

  12. Shona Armstrong

    My husband and I were in Nicaragua handing out shoeboxes with Operation Christmas Child. Remember that they don’t speak English in these countries and so games with English words are not great – the most sought after gift was a ball. It allows them to play with others. We put a ball in every box. Crayons and school supplies are super important too – and please don’t put in cheap crayons – the dollar stores ones are terrible – I say that as a school teacher and going on mission trips many times – the treat crayons like gold – so disappointing to get cheap ones.

  13. Mommyof4

    Such joy doing this. You will bless others! It’s the best!

  14. Jen Q

    Think DURABLE. Practical and fun. Fun school supplies are such a great idea. We don’t put in crayons though, because it depends where they will be shipped and stored and crayons can easily melt. We try to put in colored pencils and a small sharpener, or even twistable crayons tend not to melt. A sturdy cross-body purse, that folds up small, but opens for bigger items. Cute combs and hair supplies.

    Someone mentioned balls above – soooo true! I was a missionary in a village in Honduras and they had one ball in the whole village and kept it at the school. And when I was there, it was flat and they had no pump to blow it up. Toys that work and will hold up. (So many cheap frisbees or other things out there that aren’t worth shipping when they crack and break in a few days.)

    Expensive items can often be stolen too and create problems that way. Q

    Last tip: minimize packaging materials! If the packaging takes up so much space, there really won’t be room for the items themselves. This is honestly such a wonderful way to share with other countries and give that personal touch to other humans far away.

    • Denver

      Yes, please remove all unnecessary packing. You can pack more with the extra space!

  15. ksteele293327

    I got to hand these out in Honduras in 2017. After working in the processing center in Atlanta for several years, it was an amazing experience to be able to actually put a shoebox into the hands of a child and watch them open it with excitement. I absolutely love this organization and thank you for posting.

  16. Slw

    I’m super proud of my nieces and nephews! The other day while speaking with them, I ask what they would like for Christmas. I got the normal teenager response “I don’t know”. Jokingly, I said well if you don’t know then, I’ll take the money I normally spend and donate it to kids that don’t get gifts. I was pleasantly surprised they all excitedly said yes can we! So went on-line to Operation Shoebox and built four personalized boxes. As my nieces say “Spread Kindness like Confetti!”

  17. T

    I was able to donate a whole bunch of new kids items to an organization for foster children. They hand out gifts for them for the major holidays and birthdays. This was for one in my local area.

  18. MommySpendsLess

    Those of you who have handed them out personally – are they really freely given as a treat with no strings attached?
    I remember filling boxes for years when I was a child in GS but I have sought out other giving opportunities to do with my daughter after reading somewhere that the boxes were filled with religious pamphlets and children had to agree to convert to a particular religion in order to receive one. That could have easily been incorrect so I’m trying to find out what really happens from people who have been there. Please don’t use my comment to start a debate.

    • Luna

      There is a highly religious component that I have seen from personal experience. A lot of preaching. I did not see and conversions required. Just my experience.

  19. SueJo

    Thank you Hip2Save for this wonderful post! This organization holds a special place in my heart and like many others, I delight in purchasing items for, and assembling my boxes. My family and I have also traveled to the warehouses and have volunteered our time on many Black Fridays, working in these warehouses to prepare the boxes for shipment. The reason I love this ministry is because when I was in 2nd grade, my home was destroyed by a hurricane. While in temporary housing, my family received a box of donated items (from another organization) that contained essentials and also some fun items. But what really struck me most, was not what was in the box, BUT that someone cared enough about me and my family to take the time to purchase and assemble that box and gift it to my family in our time of need. Someone that didn’t even know me or my family – a complete stranger! And as a little girl living in America (not a third world country, mind you) that made me feel loved and valued. So I encourage anyone who wants to participate, to put yourself in a small child’s place when making your purchases, assemble with love, and the recipients and their families WILL feel loved and valued, all because a stranger far, far away took the time to show that they care.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re SO very welcome, SueJo! Thank YOU for taking a moment to share your story with us! 💖

  20. Lolie

    We love doing this. And I find it cool you can track the box now.

  21. Wvwfufan

    Love, love, love this! We packed over 1000 boxes this year.

  22. Danette

    Kohl’s $5 stuffed animals great choice for wow item.

  23. Laura

    I do the $25 online box on the site. A great way to give a box and you get to pick your choices.

  24. mhdz

    Thank you so much for posting this again. My sister and I were interested in putting together some boxes but I couldn’t find where I had saved your post. There are so many good ideas. Thank you!

  25. Louanne Knupp

    Thank you, Hip2Save for sharing this opportunity with your community! Operation Christmas Child is a wonderful opportunity to change a child’s life! ❤️

  26. Mollie

    If this is your first time, where do you get the information about where to send these boxes to?

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Hi Mollie! You can click through the link above to find a drop off location near you OR order online and have them sent out that way. Hope this helps!

  27. Helene

    Thank you for the post. My son’s 3rd grade class is doing this as a service project due Monday and wasn’t sure what was best to put in box. It’s a nice activity to do with your children to make them more grateful this year.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re very welcome, Helene! Glad this list is helpful! 🥰

  28. Jeanette---

    I can’t love this post enough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Samaritan’s Purse helps in so many ways (america and worldwide) Thankful for their heart to reach out to those who need it most…

  29. Denver

    As someone who has packed shoe boxes for several years, I have some observations. Why is everyone bashing Dollar Tree? They have some decent things to give as “GIFTS” – remember these shoe boxes are “GIFTS” and not “AIDE.” Dollar Tree was good enough for my son (now 25) and surely it is “GOOD ENOUGH” for a stranger, living across the world: Dollar Tree has some very nice “mini” UNO card packs for the older kids, by the way. Toys in general, are not meant to last forever, they get used and yes, discarded, even in 1st world countries. Yes, I like quality over quantity, but someone mentioned $25 spending online at the Samaritan’s Purse store (or OCC Amazon store.) These sites are convenient but very expensive (Especially in this economy!) As someone, who packs hundreds out of my house, $25 (plus $10) is not very practical (and that is why I am on HIP2SAVE. I need to price most items around 25 cents (give or take.) The local Family Dollar/Dollar Tree in my rural town had marked down their summer clearance to 50 cent clothing ($1 for licensed stuff); 50 flip flops and $1 shoes. $1 licensed hat/sun glass/mitten sets. My boxes will be heavy in clothing this year. As far as English printed items, kids use their imagination, and there are English speaking people around – like missionaries. As a child, I had a fascination with other cultures and languages and I don’t believe I was unique in that aspect. I liked to look at the pictures, even if I could not understand how to read or the text. Yes, one could send the money directly to a local organization, for someone else to determine how it was distributed. The beauty of the shoe boxes, is that YOU determine the contents, not a community leader or whomever. Maybe not all the boxes get through to the children (some being stolen, as suggested.) That is why packers are encouraged to pray for their boxes and the recipients. Yes, sometimes I feel that some packers back the shoe boxes for themselves (themed shoe boxes, anyone?) Do impractical gifts get sent? Yes, of course. Good observation in comments: Expensive gifts can create resentment, jealousy and other problems too. I see “well-intentioned” people crafting items, that I consider cringe-worthy or impractical, but I have to remind myself, that this is a “GIFT.” I also will include “used” items in “like-new” condition (many people do this with stuffed animals – think Beanie Babies) and I encourage others to do the same (if you pack in quantity….If you only send one box, never mind…….) In my world, I would never spend $5 on a stuffed animal at Kohls.Many will disagree with this, but to each their own. I have volunteered in the warehouse several times, and I know what a good box looks like. I encourage everyone to volunteer, at least once.

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