What I Saw in an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

Have you ever participated in the Operation Christmas Child shoe box ministry?

This week is collection week, so I thought I'd share a post from several years ago after our youth group volunteered at the OCC distribution center in Charlotte, NC. If you've ever wondered what happens to the Operation Christmas Child shoebox your family fills every year, this post will answer your question.

Many families donate boxes full of toys, candy, and personal items to Franklin Graham’s ministry to children in impoverished or war-torn areas. They seldom think about what happens next. My visit to the giant OCC processing center in Charlotte, North Carolina enlightened me. 

Every year, thousands of volunteers help inspect and process the shoe boxes for distribution. This year, my husband led a team from his youth ministry, and I went along. In 2013, our guide told us, the Charlotte campus of OCC hopes to send out 2.9 million boxes. By 2 p.m. on the day our team arrived, they had already processed 109,000—a remarkable feat considering that every box must be hand-inspected by volunteers and prepared for travel. 

This is not me -- her hair is much prettier!
Stationed on a long assembly line, my job was to open each box and remove the seven-dollar shipping donation. As the first to handle each box, I was the first to peek inside. It was like Christmas morning a thousand times over. 

As I carefully raised the lid, mindful of the fact that a check could be taped to the inside or resting on top, I couldn’t help but imagine how the little child who will ultimately receive this box might feel. 

Two types of boxes were particularly moving. 

The boxes designated for little girls made me smile. Many included soft stuffed animals, hair bows and brushes, and pretty pens and paper. I imagined the girls’ delight when they fingered the faux pearls, sniffed the scented soap, or hugged the black-eyed teddy bears. My favorite box of all contained an entire fairy outfit, complete with a sparkly wand and a pink tutu. 

The boys’ boxes were equally exciting, according to my husband. They held flashlights with extra batteries, ball caps, and tools like hammers and screwdrivers. Candy filled the corners and the token toothbrush and toothpaste balanced out the equation. Some were packed so tightly and filled so full that we had a hard time closing the lids. 

Every now and then, however, I’d open a different type of box. Sparsely filled, sometimes with items that were second hand or functional, these country cousins just couldn’t compete with their overweight city relatives. They were usually smaller, almost apologetic in their presentation, and seldom wrapped in pretty paper. One had a photo of a little old lady sitting on a couch with a bug-eyed Chihuahua beside her. “Jesus loves you,” she had written. “I hope you come to love him, too.” 

Thankfully, due to the added generosity of individuals and businesses, we supplemented boxes like these with filler items. We’d tuck toys, school supplies, or toiletry items into the empty spaces and pray a blessing on the giver who’d obviously had a generous heart but an impoverished pocketbook. 

The full boxes made my heart happy, because they demonstrated the generosity of God’s people toward those less fortunate than themselves. They gave me hope that although our world seems to be increasingly selfish and self-centered, people are still listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit’s nudge to give. 

The partially filled boxes made my heart happy, too. Like the widow’s mite, they demonstrated the desire of God’s people to give sacrificially. Both boxes, I believe, made God’s heart happy. 

Perhaps some of the shoe boxes you’ve donated over the years have been filled with gracious plenty. Others, maybe not so much. Even if all you could give was a partially filled shoe box, rest in the knowledge that God multiplied your gift and sent it on. 

And he’s smiling—just like the little boy or girl on the other side of the world will be when she opens her box this Christmas.

Do you have an Operation Christmas Child story to share? I’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below. If you’re reading by email, click here to comment. 

And if you'd like to read about two orphaned children who received shoe boxes, click HERE to read my friend Dawn Gonzalez's fabulous story.
Here's the team from Green Hill Baptist Church with my husband, David (left).


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  1. Great story! We do the Christmas shoe box thing in South Africa too. It is organized by different groups. Sometimes it's via the big chain grocery stores or the Rotary Club. We are not apart of a big enough church or a big enough town/city to know what the churches are doing, but I'm sure they are also doing things. YWAM ministries also play a part and like you said, a little can go a long way if we are willing and obedient to just do our part, God can do the rest. God bless!
    Tina from Amanda's Books and More

    1. Amen, Tina. I love the international scope of this ministry, both in the receiving AND the giving. So glad you're involved. Blessings to you!

  2. My 14 year old daughter and I worked at the OCC distribution facility in southern California yesterday, the last day to get all those precious boxes inspected and packed and shipped. It was such a blessing to pray over the boxes, and it made my heart so full to see that people are so generous with their money to buy the gifts, and with their time to help OCC. We will definitely be going again next year!

    1. I loved it, too, Lynn. It restored my faith in the generous and good-hearted nature of so many people. It was nice to focus on the positive for a change :) Thanks for doing your part.

  3. It's neat to hear about the different steps those boxes take on their journey. We started making boxes years ago, when my kids were in AWANA, and we have an OCC ornament or two on our tree from the times my dh has been the one to load all the shoeboxes from our church into bigger boxes and haul them in our van to the regional drop off point.

    1. So many steps, Shecki, and everyone necessary to get these precious boxes on their way. Thanks for doing your part in the chain. God's blessings!

  4. We got to work in the Atlanta facility last week. It was so neat to see all those boxes and get to be a part of seeing them shipped around the world. The workers at the facility were super to work with. They made sure that we stopped several times while we were working to pray for the children who would receive the boxes. Several of the young people that went with us had also made a short 30 min movie about Christmas and OCC was part of that . You can see it here:

    1. Yes, I appreciated that, too. A good reminder that what we were doing was going to have far-reaching effects in this world and in the next. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Lori, thanks so much for sharing this story. Our church has been participating in this ministry for many years now. We completed packing today and have about 60 to send out. Much appreciation for sharing your experience. ~ Abby


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