How to Help a Child at Christmas? Stuff a Shoebox!

Updated on August 21, 2017
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

'And what to my wandering eyes should appear?" - A Shoebox!

Christmas has many symbols: green wreaths, red candy canes, reindeer, fat men with white beards, tall pine trees, poinsettias... But, shoeboxes?

Up until a few years ago, no one would think "Christmas" and then think "shoebox." But then an organization called (appropriately) Samaritan’s Purse came up with an idea that has added another tradition to the season of peace, joy, and hope. I can tell you, it was simple. All you have to do is fill a shoebox with things a child might need who lives in an underdeveloped country. Toothpaste and brush, crayons and paper, hair ties, pens and colored pencils, combs and brushes, anything useful that fits into a shoebox.

Churches and charities around the world responded. It was such a simple request. So easy to do at a time of year when folks are actually looking for ways to help. There are many opportunities to help right at our doorstep, in our hometown, among those right at hand. But these shoeboxes go to the ends of the earth – to children. Who could resist? I couldn't.

My husband's group at work was looking for something charitable to do. He told them about Operation Christmas Child, and they went out and bought so much stuff they filled a dozen shoeboxes!

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child is a program of Samaritan’s Purse, a ministry led today by a familiar name: Graham. But this Graham is not Billy, the evangelist. It is his son, Franklin, once rather the black sheep of the famous religious family. But today, he is the head of this organization that gathers, inspects, and ships each shoebox to the corners of the earth. Collection sites open the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and volunteers (more than 13 years old) from Baltimore to Honolulu work for the next three weeks sending a little bit of Christmas to children on every continent.

This effort actually is underway year-round with teams praying, working in media, church and community relations.

Samaritan’s Purse was founded by Bob Pierce in 1970 after visiting suffering children on the Korean island of Kojedo. After World War II, Pierce traveled throughout Asia as an evangelist and journalist with Youth for Christ. In 1973 he met Graham who also had a heart for world missions. Only five years later, Pierce died of leukemia.

Opening the Shoebox

"Go and do likewise:"

"Go and do likewise." This was Christ’s instruction to his followers after telling them the parable of the Good Samaritan who came to the rescue of a stranger the world said should be his enemy. Today, Samaritan’s Purse is attempting to rescue more than five thousand Iraqi families who are fleeing ISIS militants as winter approaches, providing kerosene heaters, blankets, and 80 tons of supplies. They are also at work providing protective equipment to care centers in Liberia to help stop the deadly Ebola virus.

We can’t all go to Liberia or Iraq. But who among us cannot fill a shoebox with school and personal supplies? You can only do what you can do. But are we even doing what we can? If you are looking for a way to help in some small way in this huge world of need, Operation Shoebox might be something you want to investigate before next Thanksgiving. You can even "build" a shoebox right now online:

Hey, if a baby can come in a manager and change the whole world, then why can’t we give a little bit of that joy to a child - in a shoebox?

Christmas isn't Christmas without a song:

Since 1993, 135 Million Children Reached


A little advice with a lot of gratitude:


  • For any age boy here, what they really want is a soccer ball. So get the best quality mini soccer ball that you can fit into the box when it is inflated (or send a deflated ball with a pump) and you can basically forget about anything else!
  • Brand new nice short-sleeved shirts (with no writing on them) for boys and girls. Kids here have few clothes and often wear old, ripped, hand-me-downs, so nice new shirts are really appreciated and will probably fit.
  • Small flashlight with batteries (Most families don’t have electricity so a working flashlight is gold!)
  • Good quality melamine plate, bowl, and/or cup (Practical and also special.)
  • Soap AND a plastic soap dish that has a cover. When you bathe standing on a big rock in the dirt as kids do here, you really need the soap holder. And families never have enough soap.
  • Toothbrush in a toothbrush holder. Again, the plastic case for the toothbrush is really great when you don’t have a sink/counter/tiled bathroom but rather brush your teeth outside squatting over dirt and need to keep it in your room.
  • Pencils, erasers, colored pencils, and sharpeners for all school-aged kids. And good quality pens for kids aged 10-14, in black, red, green, and blue. All of these are required for school and the ones from America last so much longer than the cheap ones available here.


  • Jumpropes
  • Band-Aids
  • Hard candy and gum
  • Comb
  • Hair elastics or head bands for girls
  • Marbles
  • Harmonica
  • A simple watch for older kids
  • A solar calculator for older kids
  • Sunglasses for older kids
  • Socks
  • For the youngest girls, a baby doll with light brown skin and no hair (good for a child of any color)
  • Toy car, truck or airplane for the youngest boys (The ones with bigger wheels that are made for toddlers and are larger than Matchbox size are good. Matchbox wheels are so small, they don’t work well in dirt.)


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks for all the response to this article. This is a great tradition to add to your holiday activities each year.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Deadline in three weeks. Merry!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It's that time of year again! Want to do something good in the midst of so much tragedy? This is the thing.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thank you Patricia. Angels to you as well.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 17 months ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for sharing familiar with it and actually have participated. It is something that may not been known by many so I will be sharing this.

      What a lovely gesture this can be.

      Angels on the way to you this morning ps

      shared twitter facebook

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 17 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Deadline: November 21, 2016 Merry!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The deadline for getting shoeboxes to collection sites is getting close (10 Nov 15). Please check in your community for local deadlines.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The final number of children reached through Operation Christmas Child has been announced. 10,440,333 - almost ten and a half million children! Now that's Christmas!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      DDE: Thanks! Happy New Year to you as well.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Anything that puts a smile on a face is worth while to me. A very thoughtful hub. A Happy New Year to you!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It does make a difference as you can see in the smiling faces! Thanks Jodah.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Great hub and cause Kathleen. I have heard of these Christamas shoeboxes before and I think they are a wonderful idea. It's amazing all the wonderful and inexpensive stuff you can fit into a shoebox that would brighten a small child's face. Voted up.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      MERRY - Billybuc!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oddly, I have not heard of this wonderful humanitarian movement, but thanks to you, now I have. Thank you for raising awareness about this....what a beautiful gift this is.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is something I'd not heard of before, but it's a wonderful idea. The best giving of gifts is to those who truly need, and the smiles on the faces of children who receive simple small things in a shoebox are priceless. Thanks for sharing, Kathleen.

      Voted Up++++ and shared


    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wonderful Hub. I got involved with Samaritan's Purse and Christmas Shoeboxes about 13 years ago. I was attending a home group associated with the Vineyard and we decided to all do it together. Each of us (15 people or so) bought 5-6 each of several different things -- some for boys and some for girls (we also had an age range I think). We also each brought two shoe boxes, hard candy, nuts, etc. We spread everything out on the living room floor and took turns building boxes. It was a great idea. :) So glad you wrote this hub as I imagine lots of people don't know about this opportunity. And it is something we can all do. :) Blessings.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      ArtDiva: Glad to spread the word. Wish I'd thought to write this hub before Thanksgiving. But I believe you can actually do this all year - at least online. It's gotten to be such a part of the season in my community that in early November any of the Dollar stores are full of people filling shoeboxes! Puts you in the spirit!

    • profile image

      ArtDiva 3 years ago

      What a wonderful gift for a child at Christmas, a shoebox full of gifts, a place for all those small everyday things, packed in a small box, and sent off to those in need. Never heard of this organization until reading this article.