How to Fill an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Frugally: Serve Others With the Whole Family

As the holidays begin to draw nearer, we often start thinking of ways that our family can reach out and serve others. Although it’s always my goal to find service projects year round, the holidays just seem to be a good time to find service opportunities.

For many, many years I’ve loved the months leading up to Christmas because it gives us an opportunity to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. This is one of my very favorite ministries, and it has become special to our whole family.
If you’re looking for a way to serve this holiday season, learn a little about Operation Christmas Child and use the ideas here to pack a shoe box for a child without spending too much money.

Pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox frugally

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Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse. Each year, millions of shoeboxes are sent to children all over the world. These shoeboxes are packed with small gifts and lots of love. With each shoebox, children also get a book titled The Greatest Journey. And many of the children who receive these will go on to take a discipleship class where they will have the opportunity to get to know Jesus.
Many of the children who will receive shoeboxes have never received a gift before. When they have the opportunity to be a part of a shoebox celebration, they’ll hear a presentation of the gospel, receive The Greatest Journey book in their language and then have an opportunity to complete a Greatest Journey class where they’ll get to know more about the Lord.
You can be a part of the shoebox ministry in a variety of ways.

Pack a shoebox.

This is definitely a fun part of serving. To pack a shoebox, you’re going to pick out toys or other small gifts that fit with a specific gender and age group. You can choose boys or girls ages 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14. The Operation Christmas Child site has some information about what can…and what can’t…be packed. And don’t worry, because I’m going to give you some more ideas at the end of the post.


Participants who pack shoeboxes are asked to pay $9 for shipping. You can put this as a check or cash into an envelope in the top of your box. Or you can pay online and print a shipping label. I love to do this because when you choose to pay for your shipping this way, your shipping label will be scanned, and you’ll receive information about the country where your box was sent! It’s exciting to gather the kids around and look at video from your country. Throw in a homeschool geography lesson and find the country on a map and research it.

Pack a shoebox online.

If you can’t get out to buy items for your shoebox yourself- or if you know of an elderly or ill person who would like to help and can’t get around- you can pack a virtual shoebox online. You’ll choose items from a possible list, pay for your items, and then your box will be packed and shipped by volunteers at a processing center.

Work at a processing center.

We are very fortunate to live near one of the eight US Operation Christmas Child processing centers. Volunteers ages 13 and up can go and be a part of the shipping process. We’ve helped every year since my oldest child was 13, often more than one time each season. 
The main processing times are during the holiday season- November and December- but occasionally they’ll have special opportunities for a load of boxes being shipped at a different time of year. And this past summer, the kids and I got to go to a special processing day where we built the boxes that had been virtually packed online. Every time we go, we are blessed to be a part of the processing. We look forward to the opportunity every year.
Pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox frugally

Pack a Shoebox Frugally

So…you’ve learned about Operation Christmas Child, and you’re ready to pack your first shoebox. There are some items that you can’t pack in your box because of shipping conditions or because of certain sensitivities in the countries these boxes go to. You can check the FAQ list here to see what can go and what can’t.
There’s always a balance of packing our shoeboxes frugally and giving items that the kids can really use and enjoy. It’s nice when we can buy items in a bulk set so that we can use them in multiple boxes.
Here are the categories suggested for items on the Operation Christmas Child site, along with suggestions of items and some links to Amazon items that are inexpensive and that fit the categories. Many of the Amazon items come with several in a pack. This is really nice if you’re packing multiple boxes. You can buy a set and split them up in each box. (Amazon has free shipping on many items if you’re purchasing $25 worth or Amazon Prime members get free 2-day shipping on many, many items.)

A “Wow” Item

Personal Care Items

Bar soap (You cannot pack liquid soap.)




Cleaning wipes

Clothing and Accessories

Underwear (This is another good one to split up in different boxes.)

Socks (As with the underwear, buy one pack and split up the pairs.)


Hair bows

Flip Flops (Hint: Stock up on these at the Dollar Store in the summer because they’re cheap, and most stores don’t carry them in the winter.)

Crafts and Activities

Gel Pens

Coloring Books

Activity Books


Don’t forget that you can put a personal note and a picture in your box. The kids love to see letters and pictures from the families who send the shoeboxes!

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