Twelve Months of Giving: A Year-Long Plan for Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes

Another year has come and gone for packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I’m anxious to find out where my boxes went so I can be praying more specifically for the kids who receive my shoeboxes. This is one of my favorite forms of missional living. My childhood was fun, enriching, and I love sharing this joy with other kids around the world.

So, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about Operation Christmas Child for this next year. Let me explain.

  • A shoebox is the first gift that a child receives, so they don’t need to be an afterthought.
  • These boxes need to be thoughtful, fun, and practical.
  • You can find great deals throughout the year.
  • It keeps you from scrambling at the last minute, which often results in trinkets and impractical items being thrown in.
  • This helps you keep a missional frame of mind all year.
  • When you include missions in your personal budget, it motivates you to work harder during the work week, as you become outwardly focused instead of just paying attention to what you want to buy with that paycheck.  There is so much joy in giving, and you can hold onto that joy even when you have a bad day.

The following is organized by month, then by to-do list, then by what to purchase that month. These are suggestions based on what is typically on sale during the month.

Now that we have established some reasons to start planning for next year, let’s get to the plan!  The first month of this plan is December, so don’t be thrown off by the numbering.

1. December – Planning, A-Roll List

To-Do List

  • Decide how many shoeboxes you want to pack, whether you want to send them to a girl or boy, what age group, and the themes of your boxes. You can streamline the process by choosing the same gender and age for each box, or you can be more creative by changing it up. Pray and think about it.
  • Designate a space in your home to organize the gifts you find throughout the year. Make sure the space is cool and dry and that it’s away from anyone (including pets) getting into them. This could be where you keep gift wrap or in a closet. You just don’t want the space to become junky or disorganized. It needs to be easily accessible throughout the year.
  • Consider what worked and what didn’t work this year. Which items gave you the most joy to pack? What are some items you wanted to include but couldn’t fit in the box? What items will you include or not include this year?
  • Grab your calendar/agenda/diary/planner and write down a plan and a budget for the year. Include how much you want to spend, the items you plan to purchase each month, and the dates by when you’ll complete your shopping that month. give yourself deadlines. Factor in the cost for each box and the $7 shipping/tracking donation.
  • Go ahead and pencil into your planner when you will shop for your gifts each month. For example, you could say that during the third week of the month is when you will go shopping for the items on your list.
  • Divide up your list by A-Roll and B-Roll. Your A-Roll list includes the items that are on sale each month. Plan to purchase those items during those months to save money. Your B-Roll list includes the items you can plan to purchase during the months that don’t have major sales. Click here for an long list of items and where to find them.

What to Buy

  • Toys. It’s Christmastime. Toys are everywhere. Toys are on sale.
  • Makeup. Most cosmetic companies offer gift sets for the holidays at jaw-dropping prices. This is a great time to stock up on things like eye shadow, lip stick, eye pencils, and brush sets for the girls. Sephora has really good deals between late November and throughout December.
  • Blankets are usually on sale.
  • The dollar section in Target is usually full of fun items in December.
  • December is a great time to find a lot of items on sale.
2. January – A-Roll List

To-Do List

  • Prioritize your goals for the year.
  • Make a list of what items are on sale each month and which items you will purchase during months that have fewer discounts. This will help you save money and avoid buying the same item twice.
  • Get into couponing. No, don’t roll your eyes at me. If you want to stretch those dollars, coupons can help you do so. You don’t have to be weird about it. Just get a binder, put clear 3-ring sheet protectors in them (you know, those clear things you stick papers in to keep them organized in a binder), cut out coupons from the Sunday paper, and stick ’em in the sheet protectors in the binder. If you want to get spiffy about it, just type “couponing” in the browser on Pinterest.

What to Buy

  • Winter clothes, shoes, & accessories. This is the best time to buy shoes. You can find great deals even at department stores, and most stores by now want to clear out their inventory to transition easily into spring.
  • Linens. You could include a sheet set. These are typically packaged in a way that would fit in a shoebox. You could also include a blanket – make sure it will fit, though. Also, Target sells packs of hand towels. These are great items to include in your boxes. You can purchase two or three packs and divide them up among the boxes.
  • Toys are still on sale.
3. February – B-Roll List

To-Do List

  • This is a by-month, so use it to purchase items from your B-Roll list. Now’s a time to pull out those coupons.
  • Look at sale and clearance racks in discount stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, and the like. You will find the steepest discounts at these stores when you buy clothes outside the current season. So, during the winter season, you’ll find the lowest prices to be on spring and summer clothes, and in the summer season is when you will find lowest prices on winter items. And when I say lowest prices, I mean single-digit amounts often lower than what you might find at Walmart or Target.

What to Buy

  • Hygiene items
  • Cosmetics (hairbrushes, ponytail holders, hair clips, other hair fasteners, plastic mirror, comb)
  • Off-season clothes from discount retailers
4. March – Transition from Winter to Spring, A-Roll and B-Roll

To-Do List

  • Review and Refine your list. Check off items that you’ve already purchased. Add or remove items from your list.
  • Contact missionaries from your church or community. Ask them what needs they see among the kids in their part of the world. Edit your list based on this information.

What to Buy

  • Steep discounts on winter clothes, especially coats
  • Art Items (coloring books, crayons, watercolor paint sets)
  • Books, educational materials
5. April – A-Roll and B-Roll

To-Do List

  • Connect with other people in your community who are doing Operation Christmas Child this year.  Contact your church to see if they are collecting shoeboxes, get in touch with your small group, or connect with organizations in your area. Packing shoeboxes can be a great mission project for your small group. Go ahead and announce it now so people have time to organize their boxes.
  • Find out who will be collecting shoeboxes in your area. You can find this information on the locations for the year here. This information may not be posted yet, but you can check it as it gets closer to the time to send them out.
  • Organize a company-wide shoebox event. Clients and customers are more endeared to companies who give back. They want to know that your business cares about the world outside their walls. Have your company plan to give a number of boxes. You can let this be something that’s between you and your colleagues, or you can include your customers. If you’re a retailer, you could plan to have customers bring in their shoeboxes during a week in October. When they bring them into your store, you could offer discounts that week on items that customers will include in their boxes.

What to Buy

  • Sneakers, tennis shoes
  • Spring clothes
  • Accessories (socks, headbands, bookbags, sunglasses)
6. May – Outdoor Gear, A-Roll and B-Roll

To-Do List

  • Solidify who in your group will be packing shoeboxes.
  • Clarify the plans for your company’s event.
  • Start announcing via social media.

What to Buy

  • Resusable eating utensils and dishware (needs to be plastic, not glass or anything breakable)
  • Athletic clothes
  • Outdoor gear
  • Tumblers (You know, those double-walled cups that keep drinks cold or hot? These fit nicely into the boxes and you can stuff them with smaller items. Make sure they’re plastic.)
7. June – A-Roll List

To-Do List

  • As you did in March, review your list and the items remaining on it. Look at the items you’ve purchased and remind yourself of the items you still need to to purchase. This will let you know where you are in the process.
  • Refress your coupons. You should actually do this each month, but if you haven’t done so by now, go find you more coupons in the Sunday paper, cut them out, and put them in your binder.

What to Buy

  • Summer sports gear and apparel
  • Dishware (plastic, resuable utensils)
  • Spring clothes
8. July – B-Roll List

To-Do List

  • Consider themed shoeboxes. Since this is a B-roll month, come up with some themes for your shoeboxes. See this post for theme ideas.
  • Continue plans for your company event.

What to Buy

  • Themed shoeboxes
  • Underwear (bras, panties, briefs, boxers, socks)
  • Basic shirts
  • Pajamas
9. August – Back-to-School, A-Roll List

To-Do List

  • Note when the tax-free weekend is in your state. Stores have to honor this, but you may have to bring it up at the register.
  • This is the best time to buy school supplies. You can find them everywhere. If you have kids, pay attention to the items on their school list, because you might find something on their that you’re forgetting.
  • Advertise your company’s shoebox event like crazy. Don’t be obsessive, but make sure your customers know about it if you want them to contribute.

What to Buy

  • Back-to-School supplies. You know. Tax-free weekend & school supplies everywhere.
  • Clothes (summer clothes on sale, and fall clothes in stock)
10. September – Kids Clothes, A-Roll and B-Roll List

To-Do List

  • If you’re having an event next month, make sure you have the specific dates set and advertised. You want people to know about it. Specify the details.
  • Coordinate with your small group for shoebox project.

What to Buy

  • Clothes
  • More school supplies
  • Small, acoustic musical instruments (recorders, xylophone, flute, tambourine)
11. October – Mostly B-Roll Items

To-Do List

  • Some stores will have discounts on new fall merchandise.
  • If your business has decided to do a shoebox collection, designate a visible place in your store or office that people will see. If you have shoeboxes that are already packed, place them in your designated place.

What to Buy

  • Fall clothes
  • Jeans
  • Sports items
12. November – Packing, Final Items

To-Do List

  • Decide if you will use the shoeboxes that OCC provides, your own shoeboxes, or those plastic storage bins of the same size.
  • Pack your items.
  • Drop off your shoeboxes at the proper location.

What to Buy

  • Candy (hard candies)
  • Flatware
  • Plastic storage boxes (same size as shoeboxes)

Let a year-long plan inspire you to put missions into your budget and challenge you to give more than you thought you could. A year-round plan will add purpose to your budget.


Themed Shoeboxes – Creative Solutions for Operation Christmas Child

Maybe a list of items for Operation Christmas Child is overwhelming. You read through countless lists of items that kids need, and you get overwhelmed because you can only fit so much into one box. I know your pain, and through my own battle with this dilemma, I have come up with some solutions. You can pick what works best for you.

Before we continue, however, I need you to do something for me. Repeat the following sentence after me: “God answers prayer.” Say it again, “God answers prayer.” One more time, “God answers prayer.” Okay, so we’ve said it now three times, and I want you to keep this in mind as you pack your shoeboxes. God knows our needs. Has He supplied your needs? Yes. Will He ever stop supplying your needs? No. Because, the truth is that God knows exactly what we need (quite often before we know that we need it), and He provides for us. Not only does God do this for children raised in Western civilization, but God provides for children all over the world. When we pack our shoeboxes, we must remember that God is sovereign and that He will get the right box to the right child. We must be faithful to place in our boxes thoughtful, meaningful gifts that we have prayed about, and then we must trust God to do the rest.

You can oranize your shoeboxes however you want. Some people will put all practical items (such as hygiene, school supplies, etc.), some will put all fun items (coloring books, crayons, toys, etc.), and some put a combination of practical and fun items.

I have arranged the following items according to the theme of the box. Select a theme for your shoebox(es and choose from among their respective items.

Traditional Shoebox: this type of shoebox has a mix of toys, a wow item, hygiene items, clothes, functional items, & school supplies
  • Flashlights (with extra batteries)
  • Crayons, colored pencils
  • Coloring books
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Bandaids
  • Pencils, erasers
  • Notebooks
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Bar soap
  • Pads
  • Hand wipes
  • Stuffed animals
  • Dolls
  • Legos
Themes for Traditional Box: an easy way to pack a shoebox is to select a theme and place items from the traditional shoebox category that match that theme.
  • Disney Movie or Character
  • Zoo animals
  • Farm animals
  • Color (bright colors stand out)
Music Box
  • Recorder
  • Xylophone
  • Music flashcards
  • Music theory workbooks
  • Harmonica
  • Tambourine
  • Books about music
  • Wind-up music box
  • Mini keyboard (with batteries)
  • Picture of you playing a musical instrument
Ballet Box
  • Ballet slippers
  • Leotards
  • Tights
  • Tutus
  • Books about ballet
  • Angelina Ballerina doll
  • Picture of you doing ballet
Baseball Box
  • Baseballs
  • Baseball uniform
  • Cleats
  • Socks
  • Baseball trading cards
  • Books about baseball
  • Picture of you playing baseball
Soccer (futbol) box
  • Soccerball (deflated)
  • Small air pump
  • Soccer uniform
  • Cleats
  • Socks
  • Soccer trading cards
  • Books about soccer
  • Picture of you playing soccer
Volleyball box
  • Volleyball (deflated)
  • Small air pump
  • Athletic pants
  • Tshirt
  • Knee socks
  • Knee pads
  • Volleyball shoes
  • Small volleyball net
  • Books about volleyball
  • Picture of you playing volleyball (or you with your team)
Fashion box
  • Cute blouses
  • Skirts
  • Dresses
  • Cute shoes
  • Socks
  • Jewelry
  • Purses
Football Box
  • Football
  • Small air pump
  • Football jersey
  • Cleats
  • Socks
  • Books about football
  • Picture of you with your team
Summertime Fun Box
  • Sunglasses (wrap in a small piece of bubble wrap)
  • Hand-held windmill
  • Small sand bucket and scoops
  • Bright-colored squirt gun
  • Bouncy Balls
  • Small gardening kit (no seeds)
  • Tshirts
  • Knee-length shorts
  • Sunscreen facial stick
  • Chapstick with SPF
  • Flip flops
Cosmetics/Feminine Care Box

The following items would be ideal for girls in the older age ranges, however younger girls also need brushes and such. For an extended list of items that would be beneficial for girls in the 10-14 age group, see my previous article What Girls Really Need.

  • Makeup (powder, blush, eyeshadow, eye liner pencils, lipstick, lip balm, etc.)
  • Makeup brushes
  • Facial wipes
  • Hair brush
  • Comb
  • Hair fasteners (ponytail holders, Bobby pins, hair clips, headbands, etc.)
  • Pads for menstrual period (be sure to include some panties as well)
  • Cleansing Cloths (disposable wipes)
Science Box
  • Books on science (space, physics, environment, animals, etc.)
  • Science toys
  • Planet mobiles
  • Microscope
  • Magnifying glass
  • Science kits (no liquids)
Art Box
  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Watercolor paint set (with extra brushes)
  • Glitter (make sure it’s in a tightly closed container)
  • Glue sticks
  • Child-safe scissors
  • Coloring books
  • Books on art
Story-Making Box
  • Hand puppets
  • Costumes
  • Mini stage
  • Small props
Learn to Read Box

Pray about the language that these should be in for your shoeboxes. Don’t ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit.

  • Spelling flashcards
  • Words flashcards
  • “I Can Read” books
  • Easy readers
  • ESL material
  • Reading workbooks
Mathematics Box
  • Counting flashcards
  • Adding flashcards
  • Subtraction flashcards
  • Multiplication flashcards
  • Division flashcards
  • Math coloring books
  • Graph paper
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Erasers
  • Ruler
  • Calculator (with extra batteries)
  • Protractor
  • Geometry material
Wardrobe Box (girl)

This box would include the necessary items to build complete outfits.

  • Shirt, cardigan, pants, socks, shoes
  • Sweater, pants, socks, shoes
  • Blouse, skirt, slip-on shoes
  • Dress, slip-on shoes
  • Pajama sets
  • Underwear (bras, panties)
  • Accessories (jewelry, scarves, hats)
Wardrobe Box (boy)

Same concept as the above, just for boys.

  • Shirts, pants, socks, shoes
  • Sweater, pants, socks, shoes
  • Long-sleeve shirt, jeans, socks tennis shoes
  • Coat, long-sleeve shirt, pants, shoes
  • T-shirts, athletic pants, socks, tennis shoes
  • Pajama sets
  • Underwear
  • Hats
Back-to-School Box
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Notebooks
  • Pencil box
  • Index cards
  • Book bag
  • Ruler
  • Calculator (if it runs on batteries, include extra batteries)
  • Protractor
  • Crayons
School Uniform Box
  • Dress pants
  • Polos
  • Skirts
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Belts

There are so many options when it comes to choosing themes for your Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Select a theme based on what you enjoy or on what you think would be helpful to kids. For detailed information, click here. Don’t dismiss any of the shoebox gift ideas listed above. Be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and trust that the Lord will supply the needs of the kids who will receive your shoeboxes. As we discussed above, God has supplied your needs, and He surely won’t forget about the needs of children around the world.

Operation Christmas Child Gift Ideas and Where to Shop

Have you heard of it? I’m sure you have. If not, let me tell you about it. Operation Christmas Child is an annual ministry project organized by Samaritan’s Purse that delivers shoeboxes full of goodies to kids all around the world. You pack the boxes, cover the $7.00/box shipping & handling fee, and drop them off at a collection site, and they deliver the boxes to the kids. It’s a simple, meaningful way to give to kids in need during the Christmas season. For the logistics, click the following link: Operation Christmas Child.

Now for the gift ideas.


  • Books (science, math, world history, picture books, chapter books, etc.)
  • Spelling Flashcards
  • Vocabulary Flashcards
  • Math Flashcards
  • STEM materials
  • Music books
  • Music flashcards
  • Xylophone
  • Recorder
  • Tambourine


  • Basic t-shirts (long-sleeve & short-sleeve)
  • Dress pants
  • Jeans
  • Long skirts
  • Dresses
  • Stockings/tights
  • Sweater
  • Rain jackets
  • Rain boots (ones that aren’t heavy)
  • Pajamas
  • Athletic pants & shirts
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarves
  • Jewelry
  • Toboggan hat
  • Baseball hat
  • Fisherman’s hat


  • Toothbrush
  • Toothbrush holder
  • Toothpaste
  • Bar soap (that actually smells good)
  • Chapstick/lip balm
  • Pads
  • Hand wipes
  • Facial wipes
  • Bandaids
  • Loofa
  • Facial tissues (Kleenex, Puffs, etc.)


  • Bath towel
  • Facial towel
  • Small plastic cup
  • Tervis tumbler
  • YETI tumbler
  • Duct Tape
  • Tool set
  • Fishing gear
  • Plastic reusable eating utensils
  • Flashlights (with extra batteries)
  • Rubber bands

Cosmetics: Facial Care

  • Powder
  • Blush
  • Eyeshadow (the powder kind)
  • Eye pencils
  • Lip pencils
  • Lipstick
  • Makeup brushes
  • Facial wipes to remove makeup
  • Cute bag for makeup

Cosmetics: Hair Care

  • Hair brush
  • Comb
  • Ponytail holders
  • Bobby pins
  • Hair clips
  • Hair bows
  • Hair bands/headbands
  • Plastic mirror
  • Bag for hair essentials
  • Plastic curlers that don’t need to be heated


  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Erasers
  • Pens
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Highlighters
  • Notebooks
  • Journals
  • Index cards with a holder
  • Rubber bands
  • Pencil case
  • Book bag (one that fits in a shoebox)
  • Glue sticks
  • Child-safe scissors


  • Dress-up clothes
  • Stuffed animals
  • Dolls
  • Coloring books
  • Frisbees
  • Tennis balls
  • Baseball
  • Softballs
  • Volleyball (with an air pump)
  • Soccer ball (with an air pump)
  • Small baseball/softball bat
  • Glowsticks
  • Hand puppets
  • Toy sets (house, doctor, outer space, etc.)
  • Legos
  • Ballet shoes
  • Puzzle
  • Watercolor paint set & paint brushes
  • Wind-up music box

Inexpensive places to find gifts:

  • Dollar stores
  • Walmart
  • Target
  • Drugstores

Unexpectedly neat places to find gifts (you can find good sales at these places):

  • Bookstores
  • Anthropologie
  • Urban Outfitters
  • T.J. Maxx
  • Home Goods
  • Francesca’s
  • Vera Bradley
  • LOFT
  • Kohl’s
  • JcPenny

If you aren’t sure which items you want to include, pick items from each category that correspond to the gender and age of your child. Hope these are helpful to you!

*I realize that these may be in English. If you are unsure about this, read my previous post: What Girls Really Need.

What Girls Really Need -Operation Christmas Child

Have you ever thought about your approach to the packing shoeboxes for the Operation Christmas Child project? Quite often I find that the approach to packing shoeboxes is to select items at random without much thought given to what might actually be useful. I’ve included a list of items that you should consider when packing shoeboxes for girls.

  • Menstrual pads: Every box sent to a girl in the 10-14 age group should have a pack or two of pads. Girls in underdeveloped locations will often skip or drop out of school during their menstrual periods because they have no way to contain the flow, which is really embarrassing. If you plan on including these in your box (which I pray you do), make sure you include a pack of underwear and disposable cleansing wipes. (Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid)
  • Disposable cleansing wipes: (Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid)
  • Pack of underwear: you can find packs of fives or so. Cotton panties are the easiest to wash, and the sizes correspond to pant sizes. (Walmart, Target)
  • Pack of socks: you can’t have too many socks (Walmart, Target, Macy’s)
  • Pack of basic tshirts: clothes are essential, and you know how helpful it is to have multiples of an item so you don’t have to wash the same shirt all the time. (Macy’s, Walmart, Sam’s, JcPenny, Target)
  • Facial wipes: Boxes need to include these and not just hand wipes. Germs and dirt rest in pores and lines on the face, and oil often gets in the eyes. Facial wipes help to keep the face clear of germs, dirt, and oil. You can find these in packs, or you can also find them in small, plastic containers at Walmart. (Walmart, Target, Sephora, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid)
  • Lightweight dresses: lightweight, modest dresses are easy to pack and fit nicely into the shoeboxes. Maxis, shift dresses, skater dresses, sweater dresses, and A-line dresses are pretty and modest. (Nordstrom Rack, Target, T.J. Maxx, Kohl’s)
  • Two or three pairs of flats: most kids in impoverished places only have one pair of shoes if that. Shoes protect the feet from harmful things on the ground, and it’s good to have some simple slip-ons to go to class and walk around in. (Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx)
  • Books: You might be concerned about sending books in English to a child who probably doesn’t speak English. This is a valid concern, but another equally valid concern is the fact that the time to learn another language is during the early childhood years. Kids pick up languages better than adults do. Also, kids who learn a second language do better in school than kids who only know one language. Reading is essential for developing the mind. There may also be someone near your child who knows enough English to read to him or her. If you are uncomfortable sending books in English, ask God to show you which language to include, or maybe get a book with lots of pictures. Don’t leave out God’s sovereignty here. Literacy is crucial for survival. (Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million)
  • Literacy Material: Literacy is crucial for survival. I know, I said it right before this section. Illiteracy is what keeps people in poverty, and if you want the gifts in your box to keep on giving, then include tools that will help a child learn to read and write. Literacy for girls is so important, as girls are overlooked in many countries and cultures. Just look at the slow progression of women’s rights in Western civilization. This material would include spelling flashcards, reading workbooks, writing workbooks, basic vocabulary books, index cards, notebooks, writing utensils, and toys that are educational. (Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million for workbooks, Walmart or Target for school supplies)
  • Mathematics Material: You don’t have to know English in order to learn how to add. Math is a universally-known concept that develops the mind. It helps kids acquire critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and logical reasoning. These include math flashcards, workbooks, fun kits that teach kids how to count, calculator, protractor, pencils, graph paper, etc. (Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Office Max, Walmart, Target)
  • Something that smells good: smell triggers one’s memory better than any other sense, and when a child encounters the same smell later on in life, she will remember the joy of opening a gift on Christmas. Bar soaps are the best items of this sort to pack because they aren’t liquid and they fit nicely into the boxes.(Anthropologie, Target, Home Goods)

I hope these give you some gift ideas to include in your shoeboxes.