How to Pack an Amazing Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox

‘Tis the season when we’re all searching for ways to involve our children in giving back to the community. Christmas is, after all, the perfect time to start meaningful family traditions that reflect the desire to embody gratitude for our blessings while at the same time showing empathy for others. 

There are Angel Trees, where you can choose an “ornament” from the tree that names a specific item that a child in your local area might need or want for Christmas that otherwise they wouldn’t receive. There are food pantries and soup kitchens who need volunteers to stock shelves and assist with serving or delivering food to hungry families. There are families that churches or schools may “adopt” for the holiday season and assist with making sure they can feed their families as well as enjoy gifts. And there are homeless shelters who desperately need blankets and coats to give to folks who cannot afford to stay warm during the winter months.

These are all fantastic ways in which to help our children see that there are many families who are far less fortunate than theirs. 

Another wonderful way to get kids excited about showing kindness to others during this season of giving is to participate in Operation Christmas Child by assembling a Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox. Whether you’re new to this opportunity or just looking for ways to pack a better shoebox, today we’ll discuss how to pack an AMAZING Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox.

The Samaritan’s Purse Organization has been delivering shoeboxes to children in countries all around the world for decades.  It is a simple yet effective way for children to learn about other cultures, other countries and ways of life, and learn about how most children don’t have easy access to everyday items that we take for granted like soap and toothbrushes.

God has given us two hands: One to receive with and the other to give with.  ~Billy Graham, Father of Franklin Graham, the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

  1. The Samaritan’s Purse Shoeboxes will be collected the week of November 16-23 this year. For dropoff locations and other requirements, click here.
  2. First, you will need to print out a tag to tape to the box telling if your box is intended for a boy or a girl, as well as the age range (2-4, 5-9, or 10-14) so remember that while shopping for your items. 
  3. If you don’t have a shoebox, the dollar store has plastic shoebox sized boxes that are perfect for this activity. You can also buy boxes straight from Samaritan’s Purse on their website.
  4. Do not tape the lid to the box. If you need to make it more secure, use a rubber band. Also, you can wrap the box if you’d like, but be sure to wrap the lid separately.
  5. Also, while the goal is to fill up the box with as much as you can possibly squeeze in it, try to find a balance of thoughtful as well as useful things that children in third-world countries would not only need but would understand what the item is. For example, chances are that the child who will receive your box will not speak English. Therefore, don’t send a t-shirt with writing on it, as they won’t know what it says. The same can be said about toys that include instructions written in English. 
  6. Try to fill your box with items that can be used more than once. Stickers may be fun, but if the child doesn’t have anything to stick it to then it’s not of much use. Pencils and pens are used in school therefore can be used more often.
  7. It is most likely that the recipient of the box will not live in a cold environment, so skip the gloves and toboggans (or hats). Flip flops and t-shirts would be a better idea.
  8. Make sure that nothing in your box is breakable or fragile.
  9. Don’t send food. Even gum and candy isn’t the best idea because you never know about allergies or food restrictions based on religion. Plus, you’ll be negating the concern of choking hazards. 
  10. While stuffed animals may be cute and it is certainly fine to send, keep in mind that some cultures and religions have negative feelings about certain animals, therefore it may be wise to just omit animals altogether.

Great Ideas for Items in Every Box

These items are good basic supplies for every child.

  • Pencils, colored pencils, erasers and a pencil sharpener
  • Crayons and/or markers
  • Half size sheets of paper or notepads
  • Pens (Black and blue as well as other colors)
  • Toothbrush with a toothbrush case. Keep in mind that the person receiving this box will probably not have a bathroom counter on which to set his or her toothbrush, hence the need for a travel toothbrush holder.
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • A bar of soap in an enclosed plastic soap dish. Same reason for the enclosed soap dish as stated above about the toothbrush case.
  • Bandaids
  • Hand sanitizer wipes
  • Small package of facial tissues
  • Chapstick or lip balm
  • Nail file or nail clippers
  • Small flashlight and batteries or a solar-powered flashlight
  • Plastic bowl and cup
  • Reusable plastic utensils
  • Socks
  • Flip flops or tennis shoes. Even if they don’t fit the particular child who is receiving the box, they’ll find someone in their family that can wear them.
  • Harmonica, kazoo or other small instrument
  • Jump rope
  • Slinky
  • Plastic poncho
  • Small flannel throw blanket

Great Additions for a “Girl” Box

These items are thoughtful additions if you are labeling the box to be given to a girl.

  • Scarf
  • Brush
  • Hair accessories, such as pony tail holders and barrettes
  • Small pot or pan with a spoon or spatula
  • Unbreakable hand mirror
  • Baby doll with a harder body so that it can be easily cleaned
  • Travel-size sewing kit. While these are best for an older age group, the girl’s family could use it regardless.
  • T-shirt (with no writing) or tank top
  • Jewelry

Great Additions for a “Boy” Box

These items are thoughtful additions if you are labeling your box to be given to a boy.

  • Soccer ball (uninflated so that it doesn’t take up too much room) with a manual pump
  • Tennis ball, bouncy ball, whiffle ball
  • Cars, trucks, airplanes. It’s best for the vehicles to have bigger sized tires so they can easily drive over dirt.
  • Comb
  • Ball cap. Again, remember that most likely the child won’t be able to read English, so try to find a plain hat with no writing or specific team logo on it.
  • Compass
  • Hacky sack
  • Plain T-shirt
  • Watch
  • Duct tape. Give a child duct tape and their options for building forts become a little more endless.

When you’ve finished shopping for your shoebox fillers, be sure to have your children organize the items and fill the boxes themselves. For added meaning and fun, have them write a personal letter to the child who will receive the box.  They could even include a picture of themselves and write on the back of the photo some “about me” information. Their imagination will go wild with ideas on who might open their box and see their letter and picture, giving it more of an opportunity for the gesture of the shoebox gift to resonate with them. 


Still looking for added significance? If you donate $7, you will be given a tracking number so that you can find out the location in which your box was delivered. It’s yet another learning opportunity for your kids to be able to study the place and culture of the children in that region. Look for the tracking information here.

If you’re looking for more ways to get your kids involved in their community, check out How to Encourage an Attitude of Gratitude.

Photo Credits: Melissa Wistehuff

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Melissa Wistehuff

Melissa lives in North Carolina with her husband, three children and two cats. When she is not acting as a taxi driver or roaming the aisles of Target, she enjoys hot tea, spending time with girlfriends and family movie nights. She is constantly on the search for all things good, as showcased on her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter .

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