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For years I’ve enjoyed packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Do you know about this wonderful ministry? Here in the States we fill shoeboxes with toys, toiletries, clothes, crafts, and other fun things children might need. Samaritan’s Purse ships these boxes around the globe to children in orphanages and very poor communities, where they probably won’t receive any other Christmas gift.
When I taught Girls in Action at our church in Nashville, we spent several Wednesday nights effectively having an Operation Christmas Child shoebox-packing party, just spread out over time. We would fill in the fun sheets Samaritan’s Purse provides with information about the children and some of their favorite things. We would wrap shoeboxes in Christmas paper. We would fill our boxes together and take them down to the altar of the church. It was an awesome time to see kids doing ministry together.
Libbie’s third birthday is this Thursday, October 27. I kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking about what I wanted to do for her. I swore last year was her big hoopla while she was still an only child, and I didn’t want to do something that big again. (And yes, to some of you it might seem like a small soiree, but I get stressed out over things being perfect.)
We were also in the midst of moving into our new apartment, which is not tiny but very difficult to get people to on the campus where we live. Between that and juggling two little kids all the time I just could not get up the oomph to plan a party for her. And my mind kept coming back to the fact that she just has SO MANY TOYS. The last thing the child needs is more toys.
Like a lightning bolt, it struck me that what I wanted to do was send toys to kids who didn’t have overflowing shelves like we do. So we had a Shoebox Packing Party/Birthday Party!
Here are our tips and plans, if you’d like to plan something similar.
1. Ask families to bring items to go in shoeboxes in lieu of gifts. (If your church does not provide the standard shoeboxes from Samaritan’s Purse, you should ask each family to bring a shoebox, too.)
2. Make the party “open.” Since this is a ministry, we wanted as many kids to come as wanted to! We actually only had 10 kids, but that was about what I expected. It was perfect for the space we had. But I wanted to make sure people felt comfortable bringing friends if they wanted to. We advertised it to our whole preschool department at church.
3. Buy ahead. Before I even knew we were having our party, I started buying items on clearance for shoeboxes this year. Target and Office Depot had some great close-outs on school supplies at the end of September. College items were also clearanced around that time. Last week, I ordered a bunch of stuff for up to 90% off online from Gymboree, with their fall clearance plus a coupon. Score! Keep your eyes peeled for awesome deals throughout the year.
4. Plan food! Everyone’s favorite part, right? I kept it simple with drinks, pizza, and cake. We waited until we saw how many people were there, and then Mr. V went and got hot-and-ready $5 pizzas at Little Ceasar’s. This cake was the one “indulgence” I allowed my crazy-Jessie-party-planner self. It is Glorious Treats’ Pink Ombre Cake. I used her recipe for Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes and Vanilla Buttercream with a touch of cream cheese. It didn’t turn out quite as perfect as hers, but it tasted INCREDIBLE and was gorgeous. (Especially thanks to my sister’s skill with a pastry bag!) (See below for my sample menu.)
On Party Day
5. Set up tables. Divide your items into categories, and as people arrive have them sort their items onto the tables as well. Our categories were: clothes and accessories, girls, boys and unisex, toiletries, school supplies, and candy.
6. Personalize your boxes. I ordered the (free) OCC Party Pack from Samaritan’s Purse, and it came with a bunch of the form-letter-things for the kids to fill out. It lets them put their name, age, where they live, some of their favorites, and draw some pictures. It’s a cute way to make the box a little more personal for the recipient.
7. Fill up the boxes. We led each family to pick a gender/age for their box, check the appropriate box on the tag, tape the tag to the box, and then go down the line and pick items for their boxes. Some families did two, and after the kids were bored moms and dads stepped in to do the rest. We ended up with 16 boxes, which was great!
Try to make sure your boxes are a good assortment of each category of goods as well as being age-appropriate. If you have leftover items you can always try to stuff them in the packed boxes, or make an additional box later.
|Adorable baby not included with this free party package!|
8. Christmas card time! I bought bright paper, glitter foam stickers, Christmas stickers, and crayons at the Dollar General and let the kids go wild. With pre-schoolers, the cards were mostly a bunch of stickers randomly placed on the paper, but who cares? Again, it’s personal and fun.
9. Bon appetit, it’s time to eat. Like I said, we kept it simple. Libbie got to blow out her candles (well, I did it for her as she was too shy to do it in public) and the kiddos were happy with the fare. If you want to do something different, you could serve foods from countries around the world: enchilada puffs, layered Greek dip, sesame-crusted chicken strips, roasted honey-cinnamon chickpeas, and some fun cupcakes might make an interesting and delicious menu.
10. Playtime! You could create a game (how many countries of the world can you name? pin the OCC logo on the box?) or just let the kids run around in a yard or open space. We held our party in our church’s gym area, so the kids went to town playing with balls and running around.