Monday, July 6, 2009

Christmas in July: Operation Christmas Child & Packing Shoe Boxes on a Shoestring

Here's my daughter Kate with our 2007 OCC shoe boxes.

It's never to early to be thinking about Operation Christmas Child, the awesome shoe box ministry of Samaritan's Purse. The outreach is a wonderful, hands-on project in which kids can easily take part. It not only reaches children around the world with the Gospel message, but also it helps children here learn the importance of giving and sharing the Good News of Jesus with others.

Panama, 2004

in Operation Christmas Child doesn't have to break the bank. I wanted to share some ideas for filling OCC shoe boxes on a budget. I like to get as much for my money as possible. Who doesn't, right? So when it comes to buying stuff for my Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, I want my proverbial dollar to stretch as far as it can. As previously mentioned ... more shoe-box stuff equals more filled shoe boxes equals more children reached with a shoe-box gift and the Gospel message.

Look at all those boxes!
Kate and I visiting the Atlanta-area OCC processing center.

Let's talk strategies for acquiring shoe-box items on the cheap--not cheap shoe-box items, mind you, as we want goooooooood stuff for the kids. ;o) Here are a few of my tips for OCC shoe-box shopping:
  • Collect items all year long. I shop sales and clearance racks all the time. I'm instinctively drawn to them. (Don't pretend you don't know a good Target end-cap when you see one!) I typically start my shoe-box shopping with the after-Christmas sales. No, I am not kidding. Christmas clearance is one of the best times of the year to score some major bargains. If you wait until later on in January, you can even catch stuff at 90 percent off! No joke! Anyway, shopping 12 months of the year allows you to wait for the true bargains and to stock up on good shoe-box items when you find them. (I do have a challenge when it comes to storage, but that's another story.)
  • Speaking of Target, don't forget the Dollar Spot. You can find great shoe-box stuff there. Every six weeks or so, that stuff changes out. You can actually find Web sites that will post when the stuff is getting clearanced. But if you pay attention, you'll figure out the cycles. So the stuff will first get marked down to 50 percent off ... and then 75 percent off! But it does not last long--you've got to know exactly when to hit it. And each Target is different--get to know your Target and whether stuff will be around for the 75 percent markdown. If not, I'd go ahead and buy at 50 percent. But there is a Target close to me that usually still has a ton of good stuff at 75. I've been known to be there on a Thursday morning to load up a shopping cart with 25-cent items for shoe boxes. What a deal! Do I get some looks? Of course. But usually when I tell people what it's for, they understand. (Not that I really care what they think, but it doesn't hurt to spread the word ...)
  • Three words: BACK TO SCHOOL! Now is the time to hit those back-to-school sales for all the school and art supplies that are perfect for shoe boxes. You can get Crayola crayons for 20 cents a box (for a 24-count!)--not to mention composition books (have to be careful on size here, depending on the size of your shoe box), pencils, pens, pencil sharpeners, notepads, etc., etc., for a few cents each! There are some AWESOME deals this time of year, and I like to really stock up for shoe box season. Also ... don't forget those BTS tax-free weekends!
  • I kind of touched on this with the mention of Christmas clearance ... but be sure to shop the holiday markdowns after the holidays. Valentine's Day and Easter clearance sections usually have some stuff perfect for OCC. I've seen this stuff go for 75 and 90 percent off. Again, you have to be there on the right day, but it is easily found at 50 percent off the day after the holiday. Oh yeah--after-Halloween clearance is a fantastic time to buy your hard candy, too!
  • When you find an awesome clearance section (as in 75 and 90 percent off of stuff that's perfect for shoe boxes), make an offer. Ask a manager if he or she would be willing to make a deal if you'll buy all of it or a large quantity. Be sure to explain what you are buying it for, too.
  • Garage sales, consignment sales and thrift stores. Yes, these are places you'll find mostly used items (only new items for OCC boxes, please). But occasionally you can find brand-new, still-in-the-package shoe-box goodies for pennies on the dollar.
  • Kids' Meals. If you have kids--or even if you don't--save the toys that come in kids' meals. They're great filler for your boxes. I've been known to order children's meals for myself (sometimes it's just the right amount)--and I am sure to get the toy so I can put it in a shoe box. I have a nice collection for this year's boxes already.
  • Cereal boxes. It doesn't seem like cereal boxes have as many cool treasures in them as they used to, but sometimes you can find a gem in the bottom of one that is a great OCC item.
  • Look for stuff in unlikely places. Always be on the lookout for shoe-box stuff. Some of the best bargains I've come across for OCC have been at Office Depot (when you hit at the right time, the deals can be amazing!), Michael's, CVS, LifeWay Christian Stores, and even Gymboree! Take Gymboree, for example. The hair accessories, hats, and socks--and even stuffed animals from the layette line--will sometimes be marked down to 99 cents (during the Red Balloon sale). And if you happen to have a coupon for 20 percent off, you can get this stuff for 80 cents. This is a great bargain--and on nice items, too.
  • Save your soap. This is one for those of you who travel a lot, like I used to. When you stay in a hotel, keep your unused hotel soap. Don't be shy--ask for a few extra from the front desk. One time, when my sister and I were working on filling a bunch of boxes, I went to a few hotels and told them what we were doing. One gave be a whole bag full of little soaps.
  • Let people know. Spread the word about OCC. Let your family and friends know you're collecting stuff and plan on filling shoe boxes. They can save stuff for you and be on the lookout for deals as well. It seems almost every time I visit my homeland (Tennessee), my sister or Mom or someone is giving me a bag of stuff for shoe boxes.

Panama, OCC shoe box distribution, January 2004

I'm sure there are more ideas for filling shoe boxes on a shoestring, but this is a good start. Remember--the more stuff you have, the more boxes you can fill. And every box represents a child who will be exposed to the Gospel. And every child represents a family ... and so on and so forth ... To God be the glory!

What are your tips? Please share!


Glenda said...

My daughters school was considering not participating in OCC a few years ago (gasp). Some were concerned about the expense. I went to the dollar store and filled up a decent box for under 20.00. It is so easy, inexpensive and needed. Thanks so much for writing this. Blessings,

Karen said...

It's so fun and not expensive if you shop sales and clearance, etc. The Dollar Tree is a great place to shop for OCC--I agree!

P.S. Just in the last few weeks, I have bought regular-sized Beanie Babies at Hallmark for $1 each (on clearance) as well as the cutest little stuffed bunnies at Janie and Jack (of all places!), marked down to $1.99 ... and I had a coupon, making them only $1.60 each.

Donna said...

Way to spread the word, Karen! We love doing OCC each year. Last year Caroline (who was 3.5 at the time) was at a great age to teach her about generosity and helping others who don't have anything. She couldn't believe that people had no toys!!

I shop the end caps at Target for clearance items like stickers. I have a big box in our attic that I fill throughout the year with OCC stuff.

Glenda said...

One more thing I was surprised to discover is a lot of people think that since so many groups have done the boxes for years that there are enough to go around. That is not true thetrip I was on to distribute boxes we ran out. The need is often greater than the supply.

Annie Mendrala said...

LOVE this! I am always looking for ways to get my kids involved in giving in a tangible way. I really like the praying over the box for the child who is to receive the gift. I am going to recruit my Bible study this fall to make boxes. Thanks!

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