Could your children imagine December 25 without a single Christmas present?
While my own kids still have trouble grappling with this, it’s nevertheless the reality faced by most children around the world. Many have not even heard of Christmas because they have never heard of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
In a nutshell, Operation Christmas Child involves packing shoe boxes filled with toys, accessories, school supplies, and hygiene items, which are distributed around the world to children who would ordinarily not receive a single present. The difference between Operation Christmas Child and many other wonderful Christmas charities is that these boxes are specifically given in Jesus’ name, and recipients have the opportunity to hear the Gospel through a follow-up course called The Greatest Journey.
The 2016 National Collection week is November 14-21 so there’s still plenty of time to get in on the gift-giving action, but you do have to move quickly. The good news is collection centers are conveniently located throughout the United States and in many others countries. If you’re a U.S. resident, there’s almost certainly a center near you!
Click the Operation Christmas Child link to discover the blessings of this wonderful program and for more specifics on how and where to become involved. (It’s super easy!)
Operation Christmas Child is a year-long project for me as I search out deals to layaway the items I supply at the annual packing party we host. While it may be too late to score some of the clearance and sale deals this year, tuck the list away so you can work on next year’s boxes throughout 2016. Stretching your dollar means you can do more boxes and bless more children! Here’s a list of my favorite items to buy and my favorite places to buy them!
Samaritan’s Purse suggests each box contain an item sure to make the recipient say WOW such as a deflated soccer ball and pump, nice doll, outfit, or stuffed animal.
Stuffed animals: Stay on the lookout for clearance sales after major holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. (I try to stay away from anything related to Halloween.) I’ve scored decent-sized adorable bears for as little as $0.50 after Valentine’s Day as well as cute, heart-shaped mini pillows. Grocery stores and drug stores can be good sources. Ebay is a great source for collector’s Beanie Babies that have never been played with. (If you get lucky, you may find one or two valuable Beanies in a lot that you can re-sell to pay for all the others you are putting in boxes!)
Dolls: Ollie’s Market can be a great source for closeout Barbies for less than $2.00. Ollie’s inventory is constantly changing. You never know what other great toy surprises you may find there either.
Tee-shirts: I like to pick up tees at either Kohl’s or Belk’s during their summer clearance sales. By combining clearance sales with coupons available on their websites or through the mail, I often score shirts in various sizes for $1-3. They are often solid colors, but I hear that solids are popular overseas since there are no perplexing English words!
Flip Flops and shoes: Belk and Kohl’s are my best source for flip flops, too, but I sometimes scoop up amazing deals on shoes at Walmart. I’ve gotten light up for as little as $3.
Deflated soccer balls and pumps: From what I hear, this is one of the most popular items among boys of all ages. We were pleased with the Vizari ball from Amazon, but Walmart offers even cheaper options. They frequently have Size 4 balls for $4.88.
Toy car sets: The larger cars and trucks run better in dirt, but I sometimes include Hot Wheels sets bought from anywhere I find a good deal.
I highly recommend buying a stash of these in August when they are cheap. Decide how many boxes you are doing and how many of each item you need. I include basic school supplies in all boxes designated for the 5-14 age groups. (I stick in a box of crayons for the preschoolers.)
Walmart is generally my best source for the majority of items, but specials change yearly. This year at Walmart I picked up $0.25 crayons, $0.50 pencil cases, $0.50 colored marker sets, and 15-pen sets I split among three cases for $0.97. I picked up pencil packets for $0.47 at Target and cap erasers from a variety of sources.
Pencil sharpeners are the one item I always include that I have a tough time scoring remarkable deals on during back-to-school time. Thankfully, Dollar Tree sells them throughout the year in sets of two, six, and twelve depending on size and features.
Staples and Office Depot also run great school supply sales. Sometimes they require more legwork.
Every box should have them!
Toothbrushes and toothpaste: Dollar Tree sells combo sets as travel kits. Some even include a hard plastic case, which I hear is a real asset in the less-than-sanitary brushing conditions many recipients have.
Mild bar soap (no liquids): Dollar Tree sells bundles of several name brands at 3/$1. Best deal I’ve found!
Wash cloths: Can be found in bundles at Walmart or Dollar Tree. Last year, Target ran a Black Friday sale on eight-packs for $2 each. I am hoping for a repeat!
Combs and brushes: Combs can be bought in twelve packs at Dollar Tree.
Flashlights with extra batteries:
Many children who receive shoe boxes do not have electricity in their homes. These are a hit item, so I try to include them in as many boxes as I can. Walmart sells small LED flashlights in a 10-pack that they periodically put on sale for less than $10, including batteries. You can pick up similar flashlights anytime for $1 each at Dollar Tree or the Target Dollar Spot, but they typically don’t include batteries. Extra batteries may be included “loose” but you must wrap both ends with tape.
Candy can include hard candy, gum, gummy bears, candy corn, Tootsie rolls and caramels but not chocolates or food-type items. Candy is extremely cheap at most any grocery store the week after Halloween. Dollar Tree usually has cute boxes of mini candy canes by November 1, too. **2016 is the last year Samartian’s Purse will allow candy due to increasing custom’s regulations.
Personal notes: Samaritan’s Purse repeatedly reports how personal notes encourage the children. We always include them! Christian Christmas cards can be bought in boxed sets for cheap at the Dollar Tree.
Other great sources for gifts:
While gifts must be new, they can be found in creative places!
- Whenever my kids receive a gift they don’t particularly want, we leave the tags on and throw it into our stash. We’ve saved up great tee shirts, games, and other toys this way.
- Extras from bulk buys. Sometimes we buy items like socks in bulk packages to save money. What we don’t need for ourselves, we set aside for shoe boxes.
- Freebies. I save sample toothpastes and toothbrushes from the dentist for shoe boxes as well as other useful items I accumulate throughout the year. Many hotel soaps are unbranded and conveniently sized for packing.
- Garage sales. I am always amazed by the new with tags and new in package items I find for next to nothing!
- Target Dollar Spot clearance sales. After many major holidays, Target puts items in their Dollar Spot on 70% clearance, including non-holiday items. I’ve scooped up fabulous deals there from $0.33 hairbrushes to other hair accessories and school supplies!
- Outdoor toys summer clearance sales. Check any superstore or drug store to find really cheap jump ropes and similar toys!
- Frequent trips to Walmart. Recently, my friend found packs of pencils and scissors for $0.10 each. I picked up some really nice hair bows for $0.25 or less each. After the summer, I grabbed some clearance socks for just $1 a pack. (These proved a blessing to both shoe box recipients and my own family!)
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What are your favorite shoe box gifts and places to buy them?