It may seem a little early to be thinking about buying Christmas gifts but today I want to talk about Christmas gifts with a difference – they are not for family or friends but gifts for underprivileged children somewhere else around the globe. That’s right, each year I put together a present for at least one child who has less than the nieces and nephews I usually spoil on December 25th.
I’ve been taking part in Operation Christmas Child since for the last 6 years but it’s been run by the Samaritan’s Purse since 1990. I started sending off parcels to strangers at the suggestion of my Mum. A woman my Mum worked with was in charge of collecting the shoe boxes for her church, my Mum liked the idea so much she started making a box and before I knew it I was joining in too. Over the years I’ve done gift boxes for children of all ages, both boys and girls, and they’ve gone all over the world. Last year my box ended up in Tajikistan – a country I knew little about but have since researched and I now support women in the country through another charitable enterprise, but that’s a story for another day…
The reason I’ve been doing Operation Christmas Child for so long is because as much as I love Christmas, the consumerism does make me a little bit sad. When I’m trawling the shops looking for the Ted Baker scarf my sister wants, or worrying about whether I’ve spent the same amount on my friend as they might have spent on me, it’s nice to do something a little selfless that is really going to make a difference to someone’s day, month or perhaps even their year.
Now I do want to be fair – In recent years programmes like Operation Christmas Child have received a little bit of bad press for being a bit pushy and preachy – a lot of people who choose to put together a gift box aren’t necessarily practising Christians and some were surprised when they found out that Christian material might be included within the box. But, have no fear, whether you are a Christian or not, each shoebox is an unconditional gift, given to a child with nothing asked for, or expected in return; no pledges, no obligation to go to church or attend classes; ‘no strings attached’. The boxes are distributed by local churches so there may be some Christian music, theatre or books of bible stories handed out, but that’s all. The way I see it is that the gifts are simply a wonderful way of making someone’s day that little bit happier and a sign that someone out there cares even if life feels a little bit pants right now!
I get a lot of joy out of putting these boxes together and as they have to be bought and packed in November I now see it as the start of my Christmas routine. Can you think of a more positive way to see the start of the festive period? If I’ve convinced you to take part then read on for my top tips to packing the best gift box ever!
How to put together your Operation Christmas Child Gift Box
To take part all you need to do is grab a standard sized shoe box and cover it with Christmas wrapping paper, finally fill it with gifts for either a boy or girl of 2 – 4, 5 – 9 or 10 – 14.
The gifts don’t have to be pricey so whatever your budget you can definitely get involved. Shoe boxes are free if you ask your local shoe shop or take one out of your wardrobe. If however you have a few extra pennies to spend and a little less time to play with, Wilkinsons currently sell ready decorated Christmas shoe boxes for just £2.50.
Shops like 99p / £1 stores, Asda, Tesco and Wilkinsons are all great places to buy your gifts. A pack of two toothbrushes are as little as 30p in Wilkinsons, and toys start at 50p in Asda. If you go to the party bag section in Tesco you can easily buy enough toys to fill four boxes for a fiver as the toys come in packs of 4 or more for just £1.
Here are some of my favourite things to put in the box:
It’s a universal fact that kids love to run, jump and play. I love to include bouncy balls, skipping ropes and other outdoor toys that will keep kids moving.
Pens, pencils, sharpeners, rubbers, notepaper, solar calculators and any other school supplies you can think of are perfect for including in your shoe boxes. In a lot of poorer countries school supplies are hard to come by and the value of education is huge. The children will be delighted to receive gifts that help them at school.
As well as pens and pencils for writing, colouring books, paint sets, crayons and felt tip pens are all popular gifts. I also like to include a musical instrument or two – perhaps a whistle, recorder, tambourine or small drum. Pipe-cleaners and plasticine are also good for hands on creativity.
Something to wear
A hat, scarf and gloves are simple items a lot of us take for granted in the winter months but are another fantastic gift to give. Sunglasses, caps, hair accessories and jewellery are also popular items.
If you’re more creative than I am, a hand knitted scarf is a fantastic gift to give. You are more than welcome to include a letter to the recipient of the box including a photo of yourself – these personal touches are really appreciated.
Something to keep yourself clean
It may not sound as exciting as a a racing car, skipping rote or new hat, but hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, bars of soap or a sponge and flannel are also good to include in your shoe box.
Something to love
Cuddly toys and dolls are also loved by children of all ages. This year I’ve also included a soft, cuddly monkey puppet which ticks a lot of these boxes!
Something to play with
As well as outdoor toys and arts and crafts, toys such as yo-yo’s, toy cars and small puzzles.
Something to eat
What child said no to sweets? Although chocolate and other food stuffs aren’t allowed, wrapped sweets like bags of Haribo or jelly beans are more than welcome. Sugary treats are something I include in my shoebox every year without fail.
Make a donation
They do ask that you make a donation towards shipping of the box – just £3 – which you can pay in cash, cheque or online. I like to make my donation online because it lets you print off a special barcode. This barcode goes inside your gift box which then gets scanned when it arrives at it’s destination. That then automatically generates an email letting you know where you box went. How cool is that! Of course the donation is optional but every little helps.
Dropping Off your Gift box
Drop off points for the 2015 Operation Christmas Child Campaign will be open between the 1st and the 18th of November. To find out the nearest drop off point to you click here to use the interactive map.
Send in your photos and JOIN IN THE FUN
If you have any questions about Operation Christmas Child feel free to leave me a comment below or why not send me a tweet, I’ll then do my best to answer. I’d love to see photos of your made up shoeboxes so please do add them to the Supper in the Suburbs Facebook page or why not tag me in your instagram post (@EFWalt)?