Every year I am late packing my shoebox and this year was no exception. I tell myself to get organized, collection week is always the third week of November, (13-20), but until I see the roadside sign outside the gray church it always slips my mind. Then I feel guilty, as that shoebox may be the only Christmas present a child in a war-ravaged country or refugee camp may have. Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian based international relief organization which among other programs operates Operation Christmas Child, a charity which has since 1993 delivered over 124 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries. This year they plan on 12 million more. Here is a link to their website, including suggestions on what to pack in the Christmas boxes, as well as the local drop-off locations nearest you. You can also build a shoebox online ($25), or donate online if you don’t have time to do the shopping yourself or it’s too late.
You can pack a shoebox for a girl or boy, ages 2-4, 5-8 and 10-14 yrs. I use the preprinted shoeboxes the church gives out which comes with an instruction pamphlet and a label you check off and affix to the front. You need to include $10 for shipping from Canada, ($9 from the US), and they have added a new feature that if you donate the shipping fee online you can track what country your box goes to with a tracking label. I think this is a truly worthwhile charity and a way for children to learn the true meaning of Christmas – giving instead of receiving. You can take your kids to the dollar store to shop for a child their own age, and then later, perhaps on Christmas Eve, check online to see where their box has gone. There are some truly touching videos on their facebook page, website and on youtube – imagine never having received a Christmas present. We live in a society of such excess – it is a learning experience for a child to see that half the world lives in poverty and that even a small action can help spread joy.
I first remember reading about Operation Christmas Child years ago in a newspaper article which described the near riot which ensued when the boxes were being handed out in Afghanistan. A homeless mother of five children who was interviewed said her kids would be allowed to keep one toy, and the rest would be sold in the marketplace for food. That struck me as so sad – what are dollar store trinkets to us here, would be life-saving there. I always hope that whoever gets my box will be allowed to keep all the contents, so I put a lot of thought into what I buy. First the basic stuff, school supplies, a box of 24 crayons, coloured pencils with animal erasers, plus sharpeners for both, a pink notebook, a colouring and activity book and stickers (multicultural Disney princesses). Then some hygiene items, soap, a comb, pink hair bands/barrettes, pink fuzzy socks (they may have cool nights and I know I can’t sleep if my feet are cold). Then the fun stuff I remember liking as a child, a slinky, playdoh, a yo-yo, a soft ball with a picture of the world on it, a package of pink balloons and a small stuffed bear.
The tootsie rolls had to come out as you cannot include candy this year, nor toothpaste, playing cards or gum, (customs regulations, so it is best to check online as the rules change periodically). I once heard a story from a man who had received one of the boxes as a child, but his mother only allowed him and his sister to keep one piece of bubble gum which they shared between them. He later immigrated to Canada and as he now owns a dollar store he can chew all the gum he wants, but he never forgot getting that Christmas box. Other things I have added in the past include those little fuzzy wind-up Easter chicks as they are fun and don’t take up too much room, a set of plastic wild animals (giraffes, lions, hippos etc), a skipping rope, glow in the dark Silly Putty, and a folding soccer ball. I try to get pencils and balls with a maple leaf theme if the Canadian souvenirs have not been put away to make room for the Christmas stock. A picture book is a nice idea if you can get one narrow enough to fit, as that was always one of my favourite presents as a child. You can also enclose a personal note and/or photo if you wish, which would be fun for kids to do. One year I enclosed one of those across the miles from Canada Christmas cards although I debated about the English – would they know what it said. Is Merry Christmas a universally recognized phrase or even politically correct anymore – but surely it cannot be a bad thing to try to spread a little happiness?
And so if you wish to participate, on Christmas morning when your living room floor is a sea of wrapping paper, may it give you pleasure to know that somewhere in the world a child has opened your box and that you have made one child’s Christmas a little bit merrier. Wishing everyone peace and joy.
Book of the Day: a child’s perspective of war and refugee camps.
They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benson Deng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A powerful riveting autobiography by three lost boys of Sudan, who orphaned at the ages of 5 and 7, had to leave their war-torn country and then spent ten years wandering the desert and living in refugee camps before coming to America. A haunting tale of war seen through a child’s eyes. I read this book in 2014 but their story will stay with me forever. Highly recommended.
Song of the Day: Grownup Christmas List – Michael Buble – music link