Since 1990, more than 124 million boys and girls in over 150 countries have experienced generosity and love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child worldwide, a Samaritan’s Purse project. We asked Jessica Mills to tell us more and explain how we can get involved.
Luxmama: Can you tell us about this initiative?
Jessica: I have the great pleasure to work with so many generous families and individuals in and around Luxembourg on this project. We pack shoeboxes with new, useful and fun items (and lots of love) for needy children aged 2-14 so we can bring hope and help them feel special at Christmas. There are 15 of us that co-ordinate the project in homes, businesses, churches and collection points in Luxembourg.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief and development organisation working through local churches to proclaim and demonstrate God’s love amongst communities in Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Luxmama: How did you get involved?
Jessica: ‘Christmas in a shoebox’ (‘Weihnachten im Schuhkarton’) has been running in Luxembourg for many years and I became involved about 10 years ago. I was inspired by the idea of the teaching my children the joy of giving in a practical way by packing a box for a child of their age and I even encouraged them to budget pocket money to contribute. Giving and making gifts is a real passion of mine so this project was particularly appealing.
The project in Luxembourg has grown exponentially, largely by word of mouth. Last year, we sent 1488 boxes to the children. For us, it’s about being positive and bringing hope and ultimately changing the world one life at a time.
Luxmama: Who receives the boxes?
Jessica: Our boxes go to very needy communities in Romania and Moldova. These children really have very little and are so thrilled to be given a box just for themselves. In many cases, it is the first gift they have ever received. Local churches and social workers with the organisation assess where the need is the greatest and ensure that the boxes reach the children.
We encourage people to include a card/letter and a photo to make the gift more personal and these are often treasured by the children. I have spoken to people who received boxes as children many years ago and they all remember being overwhelmed that someone was out there who had taken the time to pack a box just for them.
Luxmama: How can our members help?
Jessica: There are many ways that you can get involved and every little bit helps:
- Pack a box and encourage others to do so.
- Donate contents (only new items).
- Donate wool for the hats we knit or knit hats, socks or scarves for children.
- Donate new or never-used cuddly toys (15cm or less).
- Raise money for the transport (€8 a box).
- Pack a box online at www.shoeboxworld.co.uk
- Volunteer to help check boxes or help at collection points in October.
- Co-ordinate a group at school/work/your community to pack boxes.
- Buy a packed box from us (22 Euros for contents and 8 Euro for transport).
Luxmama: What items should we give the children?
Jessica: Remember that these children often have nothing. We want to give them things that help them realise how special and important they are and that’s why everything must be new. Donors decide to give to a boy or girl and then choose an age group: 2-4, 5-9 or 10-14. We always receive fewer boxes for boys aged 2-4 and 10-14 and so it would be great if we can get a few more for these boys this year.
We want the children to receive a full box and so each box must include essential hygiene items, a cuddly toy (these are always precious to all age groups – yes, even the boys), other toys, small items of winter clothing, milk chocolate, school stationery items (for ages 5+) and a card plus €8 for transport. For ages 5+, we also ask for an A5 exercise book in every box with a few other stationery items. Many of the children have to write in pencil so that their work can be erased and the book re-used.
The full list of categories and all the other details, including deadlines and collection points, can be found on our website (address given below). We ask donors to kindly follow the website instructions as it is such a shame when we have to take unsuitable things out of boxes.
Luxmama: So, if we would like to make up a gift box, what should we do?
Jessica: The best thing is to get all the information by going to our website or by emailing me. Then you’ll need to find a box – a “normal” sized shoebox – and cover both the box and the lid separately in Christmas paper. You can order a box from us if you don’t have one.
Luxmama: And when does all this happen?
Jessica: Very soon! All the boxes and donations need to be handed in at the collection points by 28 October and they are then carefully checked. We have to make sure that every box adheres to customs regulations and that everything is new and age-appropriate. For example, we cannot send any sweets containing gelatine as this is prohibited in Muslim communities. Boxes are given to all children regardless of their religion. Although Samaritan’s Purse has Christian roots, the box is simply a gift with “no strings attached”. The distributions are need-driven and the organisers are sensitive to the beliefs of the local communities.
It really is a lovely, personal and direct way for people to make a big difference to a child who has almost nothing.
More about the Author
Jessica Mills is originally from South Africa and has been in Luxembourg for 20 years. She is passionate about education and is a qualified high school teacher and is very active in the local and international community in Luxembourg.
She is married to a South African and has three teenage children.