One Shoebox at a Time

By: Elaine Tomski

“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Mark 16:15

Sharing the Gospel is the high calling of every person who knows Christ. The question followers in every generation must answer is, “How?”  Just how do we deliver the Good News to the nations? Here’s a suggestion. Why not do it one shoebox at a time?

For more than two decades, through the organized efforts of Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child (OCC), people like you and me have been packing shoebox gifts and sharing the love of God to children in need all over the world. But, we’re not done yet. There are still places the Gospel has never been heard, places where boys and girls do not know about God’s Greatest Gift – His Son, Jesus Christ.


In six easy steps, you can create a shoebox gift for a child needing to hear the Gospel.

  1. Use a standard size shoebox or get a pre-printed shoebox from Samaritan’s Purse. Label it for a boy or girl, age 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14.
  2. Select a quality toy such as a doll, soccer ball with pump, or stuffed animal.
  3. Fill with other fun toys, hygiene items and school supplies.
  4. Pray for the child who will receive your gift. Include a personal note or photo.
  5. Include a donation of $9 to cover the cost of shipping and Gospel resources.
  6. Take your shoebox gift to a drop-off location near you in the third week of November. This year, collection week is November 13-20.

After your shoebox is lovingly packed and delivered to a drop-off location, it is shipped by semi-truck across the United States to either Atlanta, Boone, Baltimore/Washington DC, Charlotte, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis or Southern California to be processed.



“The power of a simple shoebox is so exciting,” says Betty Troyer. She witnesses the love given and received on both sides of a shoebox every time she volunteers at the OCC Processing Center. Betty and over 80,000 other volunteers serve in one of the eight centers where millions of shoeboxes are delivered annually. At these centers, each shoebox gift is carefully inspected by caring volunteers to assure it arrives safe and dry into the hands of a grateful child.

Betty has been working or volunteering at OCC processing centers for over a decade and looks forward to returning to Boone, North Carolina, again this year. She won’t be traveling alone. One, two and possibly three vanloads of people will accompany her to join with 300 other volunteers over a three-day period. Betty’s coworker, Adam Troyer, went with her group last year and is also excited to go again. Adam says, “I enjoyed getting to meet other volunteers with the same hearts’ desire to reach more people with the Gospel. I can give some of my time to help these kids learn about Jesus. By volunteering at the processing center, I am part of leading a child to Christ.”

Now you may be asking, “What exactly do volunteers do at an OCC processing center?” Betty reports, “Every box is inspected at a workstation of 12-14 people.” The tasks are many.  Boxes are checked to be sure labels indicate either a boy or girl. They are also sorted by age group. Boxes are opened and the $9 cash or check donation is removed and placed into a locked trunk. Next, volunteers make sure to remove from the box anything that cannot be shipped.

Imagine a little girl eagerly opening her very own gift, only to discover every precious toy, pencil and piece of paper covered in slimy goo from a shampoo bottle. This is why shoeboxes are checked and liquids removed. Other articles that volunteers are instructed to remove are candy, toothpaste, used or damaged items, and war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures. Also on the forbidden list are seeds, chocolate or food, lotions, medications or vitamins, breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers, and aerosol cans.  You might wonder why so many types of items are thought to be unacceptable. Aside from the obvious problems of items becoming explosive, wet or broken, some countries will not accept food or anything that goes into a child’s mouth. OCC volunteer Liz Yoder says, “This is the first year that toothpaste is not considered acceptable in certain countries.” This may seem strange to us, but she quotes Franklin Graham as saying, “Why should we lose a country to a tube of toothpaste?” In reality, the discovery of just one dangerous or unacceptable item can cause the rejection of an entire shipment of gift shoeboxes.

If an item is removed from a shoebox, it’s never wasted. These items are donated to homeless shelters, orphanages or women’s shelters where they’re used and very much appreciated. Liz says, “Other than removing unacceptable items, the volunteers do not mess with the integrity of a packed shoebox.” Filler items donated by businesses and individuals are used to replace any removed items. Filler items are also added to boxes not already filled to the top. Every child is sure to receive a box full of God’s love expressed through you.

Betty says, “A pastor from Malawi has told us the most important items for the shoeboxes are school supplies, writing tablets and either a drawstring bag or backpack.” Since children walk a long distance to receive their gift and must carry it a long way home, a safe bottle for water can also be helpful. Betty adds, “Another important thing to include is a bar of soap wrapped in a washcloth and placed inside a Ziploc bag.”

Next, shoeboxes are securely taped, sorted by gender and age, and then placed into cartons. Each carton holds a minimum of 15 and maximum of 23 shoeboxes. Adam says, “I know how much of a puzzle it can be to fill a carton, since that was my job last year.” Twenty-three of the red-and-green boxes supplied by Samaritan’s Purse fit into the carton just right. When the box sizes vary it can be a challenge to fit 15 boxes, this way and that, into a carton.  A standard lady’s shoebox is about the same size as the ones supplied by Samaritan’s Purse. Adam recalls visualizing the grateful faces of children opening the boxes as he placed each one into the carton. He had seen the training videos and heard the stories of children overjoyed by such simple gifts. He says, “I take too much for granted. I take God for granted.” His experience at Boone gave him a greater appreciation for simple joys and eternal life.

While checking the boxes one at a time and getting them ready for shipping, electronic screens constantly reveal the number of boxes made ready from all eight processing centers. Each box represents a precious child of God. How encouraging it must be for volunteers to watch that number rise higher and higher throughout the working days. Betty says, “You always know the destination of the shoeboxes while you’re working on them.” The large screens also reveal this information. How exciting for volunteers to consider the final destination of the shoebox they’re preparing to ship.

Finally, says Betty, “After a carton is full, it moves down the line to a sea container.” When that container is filled, everyone at the processing center stops working and starts praying. The container is blanketed in prayer for safe travels to its destination before it ever leaves the facility. From A to Z, the containers travel by boat and airplane. From Argentina to Zambia and 102 countries in between, your simple shoebox gifts filled with tangible expressions of God’s love arrive to make a difference in the lives of children worldwide.



Just as work stops for prayer when a container is filled, prayer times are scheduled into each day at the processing centers. According to Adam and Betty, at the Boone center they stop every morning and afternoon so volunteers can place their hands on nearby shoeboxes and offer prayer. Betty says, “We pray for the shoeboxes and for the children who will receive them.” Volunteers know prayer makes a difference.

They are privileged to hear testimony after testimony of answered prayer from actual recipients. Adam recalls, “One boy had been wishing for a button-down blue shirt. That’s not a common item found in a shoebox gift. Still, this boy just happened to get a box with a blue shirt in it. Each box seems to go to the child who needs that box. God has His hand on them.” Betty tells, “One little girl was needing shoes.” Not only did she find shoes; “When she opened her shoebox, she found a pair of shoes that fit her!” Adam says, “They’re thankful for what they get and thank God for it. It’s amazing to see how grateful the recipients are.”

Liz Yoder has also witnessed answers to prayer after prayer while serving with hundreds of other volunteers at the Charlotte Processing Center. She says, “It seems as though the people on this side of the shoebox randomly choose items to pack, but there’s actually nothing random about it.”  Consider this; a box is filled by you, it’s dropped off at a collection point, loaded into a semi-truck, sent to one of eight processing centers, shipped to one of 104 countries, is opened by a child who was praying for something specific and finds the answer to his prayer. “There’s not one single random step in God’s process,” says Liz.

Consider the true story of a boy who received a little girl’s dress in his box. A volunteer at the processing center discovered the dress in a box labeled for a boy. At first thought, the volunteer was going to remove the dress. What boy wants a dress? But then the volunteer considered God had put it there for a reason. And He did! The boy who received the box had been praying his little sister would receive a dress. She had none, that is, until OCC placed that box in his hand. Upon opening the box, the boy proclaimed, “My prayers are answered!” He joyfully gifted his sister with a treasured dress.

One boy packed a shoebox intended for a girl, including a quality pair of scissors and sewing kit.  Later he received a thank you from a boy who had received the box, asking, “How did you know I was praying for scissors? My mom is a seamstress. It’s our only way to make a living and her scissors were broken.” God knew who needed that shoebox. Liz says, “I always tell people, you can’t pack a shoebox wrong!” One child received an oven mitt. It was exactly what he needed to help pull hot pans from the family oven. He helps his mom, who bakes for a living. Thankfully he no longer has blisters on his fingers from touching hot pans. What a privilege it is to be part of God’s answered prayer to a child living across the ocean

Many children live in desperate circumstances far from Christianity. Still, they have within them the deep-seated belief that there is a God out there. They live with hopes and dreams. When those hopes and dreams are fulfilled by a shoebox gift, the child can say, “I know there is a God and I know He cares about me.”

Although these simple gifts can’t change living situations, they do change hearts. Liz says, “These gifts are meant to connect people with the love of Jesus.” Betty shares the story of a pastor from the Philippines who hopes the boxes keep coming. The gifts and the accompanying booklets, discipleship resources and New Testaments are the tools he needs to spread the gospel. She says, “He invites the children who don’t attend church to receive the shoebox gifts.” The children come back to church and soon their parents, siblings and relatives are coming, too. With these shoebox gifts of love, this pastor has started seven churches. More and more people in the Philippines have now received the Greatest Gift – God’s Son.


Liz is enthusiastic about the shoebox because of the many opportunities surrounding it. “It’s not just the child across the ocean who benefits.” She says, “Lives and hearts are changed on both sides of a shoebox.”  Liz arranges registration, transportation, hotels and meals for multiple busloads of volunteers to the Charlotte Processing Center each year during November and December. “When you walk into that processing center, you experience something much bigger than yourself.”  She always comes home from Charlotte wanting to do more; pack more boxes, help more volunteers get to the processing center and see more prayers answered. She says, “I want more children to know they matter to God.”

After volunteering at the Boone center, Adam knows giving one child a shoebox can spread the Gospel to the child’s family and an entire village. He says, “It’s my heart’s desire that everyone has the opportunity to hear about God and reach heaven.” He is ready to return with Betty and the team to Boone again this December. In future years, he plans to volunteer at other processing centers across the United States. His heart is changed and empowered by the small part he plays in spreading the Gospel.  Adam has witnessed what a simple shoebox gift does for a child, explaining, “They feel loved and then learn who is loving them.”

Betty appreciates how, through Operation Christmas Child, she can help spread the gospel without going to a foreign country.  She understands one shoebox gift may be the only opportunity a child has to find out about Jesus. It can make all the difference in one person’s life for eternity. What could be better than that? “It’s like the icing on the cake,” says Betty, to be part of the final process before shipping the shoeboxes abroad. She also loves returning to Boone year after year to reconnect with friends who have become her OCC family.


In the final leg of the journey, shoebox gifts are delivered in the name of Jesus to children living in desperate situations around the world. Delivery methods vary from country to country.  For example, in the Philippines, boxes move by truck and bike; in Madagascar, by canoe and wagon; in Mongolia, by oxen, horseback and camel; and in Zimbabwe, by elephant. At the final destination site, each precious child receives a shoebox. Excitement is high even as they patiently wait until every child has a gift. Then the countdown begins…3-2-1! Children open shoeboxes filled with gifts of love to discover Good News with great joy!

“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”  – Luke 18:16

Liz says, “I’m just one person. It’s overwhelming to think how many children need to hear about Jesus. But when I go to the processing center, I see God can do it using all of us. We’re all part of a big mission project.” The reality is, one shoebox at a time adds up to enormous numbers. In 2016 alone, 11.5 million shoebox gifts were collected, more than ever before. Those shoeboxes reached children in 104 countries. And the best number yet; over 1.6 million boys and girls across the globe received Christ as Savior.



After hearing these stories maybe you’re saying, “I can do that! I can process one box at a time. How do I volunteer?” Here’s what you need to know.

  • Processing begins November 21 and finishes no later than December 16.
  • Processing Centers are closed Thanksgiving Day and Sundays.
  • You must register to volunteer. Registration takes place October 4-6, 2017.
  • You can register by calling 1-800-442-9120 or online at
  • You can serve as an individual or as a group.
  • Volunteers must be at least 13 years of age to serve in a Processing Center warehouse.
  • One chaperone is required for every four youths age 14-17.

If you need additional information about registration you may contact Esther Troyer, OCC Volunteer Staff member at (330) 204-1502. Betty Troyer is also willing to answer your questions. She serves as OCC Church Relations Volunteer in the Holmes County, Ohio, area. You may reach her at (330)743-4196.


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