Even cooler (maybe) than packing shoeboxes is having the opportunity to volunteer at an OCC processing center. This is the third year that we've had a center in the Baltimore area, and it's so cool to be able to take some time after work to process shoeboxes. It's now one of my favorite Christmas traditions.
It is my opinion that there is no greater source of insight or inspiration regarding packing a shoebox than to volunteer at a processing center at least once. Inspecting hundreds of shoeboxes before they ship to their final homes will constantly have you saying "wow, what a cool idea!" or "No! What were they thinking?"
Of course, I know that while anyone can pack a shoebox, not everyone can easily get to a processing center, so here are my top 5 items to not even think about packing:
- Liquid: Nothing makes me sadder than when someone thought they were being generous with a full-size bottle of shampoo or body wash that I promptly have to remove. Other liquid items we frequently have to pull include lotion and, the one that a lot of people don't seem to get, toys like bouncy balls or bracelets that have glitter suspended in liquid. It still can't go.
- Mediocre awards: I was stunned last year when I found a medal in a shoebox... a third place medal. Yikes. I've seen random trophies come through too, and more medals this year...though at least they were more generic ones that share the true American spirit of participation awards.
- Food: Canned goods and bags of mini-oreos are all customs violations. Also, saving the tops of yogurt containers that contain toppings like m&ms and granola? No. Just no.
- All items in one category: a box of all clothes, all toys, etc., is very generous, but the shoebox is an opportunity to meet a variety of needs. You know that "something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read" gifting mantra that keeps floating around facebook? Apply that to the shoebox. Instead of 5 shirts, maybe a shirt, a bar of soap, a toy, and some school supplies.
- Morbid personal items: Last year's third place medal took the take for worst item found in a shoebox...until this year when I discovered memorial cards from someone's funeral. Eww.
And my top 5 gifts that I think should be in every box:
|I found a stingray in boxes my first two years. Not this year. Bummer.|
- Educational items: pencils (with sharpeners) and paper are NBD here, but you may be enabling a child to go to school by providing these items in a shoebox. Also consider hygenic pads for girls in the 10–13 age group (not tampons)—this may prevent them from having to miss school!
- Skill items: I remember being shocked to see items like hammer/nails and sewing kits in shoeboxes my first year. These are now my favorite items to come across. Giving a child a skill can lead to giving them an occupation!
- Hygeine: Basics like a toothbrush (toothpaste will be a no go next year due to customs hold-ups), wash cloth, and bar soap are all essentials that I feel should be in every box (the filler item I most often look for/add when in the processing center is, in fact, bar soap). Again, this seems boring to us, but it's amazing for the kids to have such things all to themselves. Solid deodorant for the 10–13 age group (can you tell this is the age group that has stolen my heart?) is also a great item.
- Attire: I think people are hesitant to pack clothing because of different climates (there's no guarantee of which country your box will end up in), but something as simple as a fresh tshirt or pair of socks is still a highlight. I've seen winter accessories, flip flops, crocs, hats, and complete outfits!+
- A "wow" item: something as simple as a ball is sure to make a young boy's day (be sure to include a pump if it's inflatable, like a soccer ball), whereas a plush toy or some sparkly accessories may strike a little girl's fancy. Add a little something fun to make your shoebox gift memorable.