10 Ideas To Pack An Operation Christmas Child Box

80+ Operation Christmas Child Ideas

UPDATED 2014: 80+ Ideas!

I LOVE Operation Christmas Child and in 2009 managed to pack 45 good quality boxes for just $45 because I didn’t just start in November right before packing week. The key to it was shopping year round which is why I put together this video on Operation Christmas Child Year Round Deals.  This post is 10 Ways To Pack A Shoebox On A Budget, go see the video I made for it.

1) Holiday Clearance.

Fake Barbie dolls for just 20 cents in Michael’s Christmas clearance.

Part of my boxes often contain things that were in last year’s Christmas sale at 90% off, this year’s Valentine’s tshirts at 75% off, some 4th of July socks on clearance and other bits like that. I don’t stop once the boxes leave my house in November instead I start gearing up for next year. Not only does this mean we can get bargains but it means we don’t have to spend a chunk out of pocket all at once.

Last year I found some great items at the Dollar General when they had their summer clearance at 90% off. NINETY!

Cute tea sets originally $2, now 20 cents

Spades originally $1 now 10 cents
Flip flops originally $3 now 30 cents
Around 15 pairs of flip flops, some crayons and 20 toys later and I was out a mere $11!

2)  FREE Items.

So often I get items (legally!) from stores for FREE!!! Yup, it’s true and part of what i do at Mummy Deals each week is show you how. When it comes to shoeboxes it’s no different. If we need the item, we keep it. If we don’t but it’s inappropriate or liquids it gets given elsewhere. If not it’s going to Samaritan’s Purse and in the shoeboxes. Here’s how:

a) Drugstore freebies. One of the common questions I ask people when introducing my site is, “Do you know you can get FREE things at Walgreens and CVS. In fact I haven’t paid for toiletries in 8 years!”

While I wait for them to pick their jaw up off the floor I start to explain how Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid all have great rebate programs that enable you to take advantage of FREE items. In fact one year at CVS I got over $1000 in free items! Check out my 411 section if you don’t know how.

b) School Supply Freebies

Many of the office stores offer rebate programs also and during school supply season offer free after rebate items or cheap deals. That’s when I stock up.

c) Using a high value coupon to get something free.

Free soap and 20 cans of playdough for just $1.99 after coupons.

d) Menards and Other Mail in Rebates.

Crayola pens FREE after rebate. They came in packs but to save space I removed them from the packaging.

Before you panic about rebates, it doesn’t involve a bunch of clipping, cutting and photocopying. if you’re nervous check out my article here on how it took me just a few minutes to get $37 worth of stuff for just the price of tax.

e) Free Samples.

If you’re a regular around here you know about Granny’s Deals. If not, sign up for the email and start getting freebies! The bottom line is, companies like to give you free items to try like gum or candy or band aids or other items that you can pack in a shoebox. I get things in the mail often and you can too.

3) Holiday Candy

All of our boxes need candy but what better day to get it than the day after Valentine’s, Christmas etc. Kids don’t care if they’re eating green and red suckers in July,  just ensure that it hasn’t expired.  If you have time to wait a week it’ll get to 75% off maybe higher! For Operation Christmas Child they can’t have chocolate and it needs to be hard candy or gum.

4) Regifting.

Yup, I said it! I re-gift and from a survey I read not long ago, I’m not the only one. 69% of people polled believe it’s now socially acceptable!   If it’s not something you’re going to use, bless someone else with it.  I scour around my house for items I may have been given and couldn’t use. I generally place them in a box with other gifts I’ve personally bought throughout the year. I look through them with new eyes: Do I really need them or would they be a bigger blessing to a child in Africa? If that’s the case I grab them and add them to a box. I just ensure that the stuff I’m giving is within the guidelines and then I give it.

5) Thrift Stores.

Although you shouldn’t give used items to Operation Christmas Child and other such organizations, thrift stores are still a wealth of goodies as they have unused stuff for great prices. I recently picked up some funny play teeth for only $.25!!! Be choosy about where you go and choosy about what you grab but I do know Goodwill stores get shipments from Target and things that were originally in the Target dollar Spot I’ve managed to snag for a quarter.

6) Shipping Costs.

I got this question recently,
“I have read your post about packing the shoeboxes and this is something that my family and I want to try to do. However, I just read on their website that you have to include $7 for each box to help cover shipping costs. This will make it hard for us to do more than a few boxes. Do you have any thoughts you can post on how you defray this part of the cost of the boxes?“

I get asked this question a lot so I want to address it now:  Firstly: Operation Christmas Child asks for $7 per box but if you’re sending multiple boxes you can send one check. The easiest way to give is online  and Follow Your Box.

Secondly: Give everything you can content-wise. If you can only afford to pack 6 boxes, pack 6 really well done boxes and then write a check or donate that amount. The rest of the items you may have (from freebies or wherever) put in a plastic bag and bring to your drop off location. They will then be shipped to the nearest packing place and will be used to fill empty boxes. This is honestly my favorite way to do it.

What I’ve found is that some people don’t have the time to shop and just want to give money. Ask around friends, family, church members and any groups you’re part of. Remember: even a dollar goes a long way.

Finally: Think of creative ways to make the money. Maybe you’re an eBay seller. Why not hunt around for a few items you could sell and then give the profit. I’ve also heard of children setting up lemonade stands to raise some cash.

7) Hunt Around Your House.

It’s unbelievable the kinds of things I find when I hunt: notepads that I bought that I’ve never used or key-chains we just don’t use that I was given. Here are a couple of examples of why you need to do a search:

a) Promotional Items
You know the kind. State Farm key-chains, AllState balls. All of which may end up at the thrift store or in the garbage. These have great potential for being excellent shoebox filler items. So look around the house and grab all the promo pens, t shirts, key-chains and other items you can find and give frugally!  Skip over the kitschy items or the things that look broke, we’re not trying to be cheap here!

b) McDonalds Toys
I know it sounds silly but how much do kids pester to get the toy only to not use it? I know many of my friends don’t end up giving the toy to the child as it’s just “one more thing” Well, some kids live in such poverty that that “one more thing” maybe their only toy and a treasured possession. Instead of letting it sit around, why not consider giving it? I’ve got to tell you, my son has been given a couple of these and loves them. They actually have some decent ones nowadays and they make great fillers for your box.

8) Free or Cheap School Supplies.

During August and September many stores will vie for your business by offering crazy low prices on items like pens and pencils. That’s when I go out and buy all the items I need for the shoeboxes. I grab 10 cent glue sticks, 5 cent packs of pencils and other great deals.

Besides the cheap items, I’ve ended up with lots for FREE after mail in rebates or loyalty programs at Office Depot, Office Max and Staples. Post-labor day is also an excellent time when most stores clearance their school supplies.

Some I donate to local school supply drives and some I give to Samaritan’s Purse.   Your best bet is to find a teacher friend.  Those guys can get more of the penny items and if they don’t need them for the classroom you can get more!

 9) Hotel Items.

Because of shipping restrictions they can’t take liquids but soaps are fabulous and necessary. If you stay in hotels often, please consider grabbing your soaps and using them for shoeboxes. I usually put two per box as they’re quite small. Wrap them in foil then in a ziploc to put in the box. Remember to label them.  Notepads and pens from hotels are also excellent and a great filler.

10) The Dollar Store.

If you’re in a crunch and haven’t planned ahead for Operation Christmas Child  then there’s a couple of places I would recommend heading and The Dollar Store is the first.

The Dollar Stores is a great place to pick up lots of miscellaneous items.  When you’re packing several boxes you can’t afford to run out and spend $25/box. I aim to pack more boxes than stuff them full of expensive toys and for that reason I head to the Dollar Store. When there I don’t just pick out a bunch of dollar items either! I try and find the 3 packs of party favors. That way I can often find 6 bouncy balls/crowns/socks for $1, open up the packs and put one item into 6 boxes. The sorting centers will open the boxes to ensure that nothing is yucky but it’s totally fine to take things out of the packages so you can put more in.

The other places to head are the Dollar Spot section at Target or JoAnn Fabrics or other stores that have similar areas.

Welcome if you’re new around here! Please sign up for my daily tips email and you will start to get great FREEBIES in your mailbox. If you love OCC like me then you’ll want to pack as many boxes as possible and by signing up for my email you won’t miss out on the deals I write about throughout the year.


  1. I am always looking for cheap or free items for my shoeboxes. Please…tell me more!

  2. What nice boxes you’ve put together. And you really know how to find and shop for bargains that children will love.


  1. […] For ideas see Craft Ideas for Operation Christmas Child and How to Pack a Shoebox on A Budget. […]

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