In December of 1993, I celebrated my 12th birthday and Operation Christmas Child was adopted by Samaritan's Purse. I don't usually share this, but I was a Graham (yes, part of that Graham family) before I married Peter. My grandfather and Billy were cousins, we met at a family reunion when I was 7, but we don't exchange Christmas cards.
However, because of the family tie, my mom heard about the program early on, and was quick to jump on OCC bandwagon. While I tend to be a skeptic of "love languages", I have to say that if my mom had one - it would be gifts. She is forever putting together baskets and boxes for missionaries who are home for the holidays, families at church who are raising kids on a small budget, and even the trash pick up crew, the mail lady, and the newspaper woman are on the receiving end of her gifts. Packing shoe boxes for kids who had nothing? That was right up her alley.
For the last nineteen years, I have been involved with OCC - finding end-of-summer deals, wrapping boxes, packing them, and sharing about the Shoe Box ministry at church. I still remember walking through the aisles of Wal-Mart, thinking about the 10-12 year old (now 10-14) girl - someone my age - who would be receiving the shoe box. I wondered what her life was like, and what kind of things she would enjoy receiving. As I picked out hair accessories and socks, I wondered about her favorite color and what she did for fun.
After we got married, I continued to pack shoe boxes. During the early years, when money was tight, I might only send one or two boxes. Over time, I got better at stretching a dollar, making the most of my favorite red clearance stickers, back-to-school specials, and holiday dollar bins. While it's not as easy as it used to be, it's still possible to fill a box on a budget, it just takes some creativity and outside-the-box thinking. Skip the yard sales (it all has to be new), and don't assume that DollarTree will be the cheapest option (though I do buy some filler items there).
While we're busy trying to purge our houses of excess stuff, there are kids in developing nations who are going barefoot - not by choice, but by necessity. They kick around a tin can for a soccer ball. They've never owned a toothbrush. During our stint overseas, I got a much better grasp on what needed to go in future shoe boxes. I've managed to squeeze full-size soccer balls (deflated), backpacks ($3.74 on clearance), and complete outfits into my boxes. I've seen the way that girls are misused and abused in the most abominable ways possible, so I don't pack mini-skirts or pants with a rhinestone encrusted rear end. Use some common sense.
In many of the countries where we lived, children could not go to school if they didn't have a uniform. I keep that in mind when I shop for my boxes. I personally returned to the U.S. with a lot of cavities due to the lack of fluoride in the water (not that it was clean anyway), so I make sure I get anti-cavity toothpaste. I saw kids hauling water in every imaginable (and unimaginable) type of container, so I now include a personal water bottle. It's these kinds of experiences - personal, real, raw - that make me passionate about shoe boxes.
The 2012 Collection is right around the corner, and even though the back-to-school sales are over, I encourage you to pack a box...or ten! Skip a week of mochas and fill a shoe box instead. Tell your extended family that instead of giving them next year's yard sale fodder, you're going to be packing a box in their name, giving something to a child who has nothing - and encourage them to do the same. Don't have time to shop for a shoe box? Make a donation to help ship the boxes overseas! There are lots of ways to get involved, and I think you'll find - as I have - that it's way more fun to give to those who wouldn't have a Christmas otherwise. I love having a part in making an eternal difference.
Have you ever packed a Shoe Box before?