A couple of weeks ago I volunteered at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in Orange County, CA. I spent 3 days (more like 2.5) opening, inspecting, sorting, re-stuffing, taping and cartonizing shoe boxes. It was fun! I figured I better make this post now before I forget too many details-life gets crazy when the routine is gone (even when there's very little routine to start with) and I just haven't sat down to do this.
First off, my mom went too, and we drove across the desert on I-10. Anyone else been on that desolate highway?? We would have preferred to fly, but prices were too high and I'm glad we didn't now that the TSA is allowed to grope you! On with the story...
The warehouse-those are the cartons that the inspected shoe boxes go in, at least 14 to a carton. BTW-it isn't heated, and although it was southern California, it was only about 60 degrees inside. We were told to wear layers of clothes so we could adjust as we warmed up from working.
Pallets of shoe boxes, used to divide the break area from other parts of the warehouse.
Me and Jan, another volunteer from my church. The first day we were inspectors. I prefer to call the job, "contraband confiscators" because it sounds more exciting! This stage of the job requires you to open each box and verify that there are no inappropriate items. That's the easy part. Getting everything back into the box was sometimes a huge challenge! Items we had to remove include:
food of any type (nothing with an expiration date)
war related toys (fighter jets, guns, etc)
There were a few more things, but I don't recall the whole list. Anything that was taken out was placed in a container and at the end of the processing time, taken to a local charity. It gets used, just not in the shoe box.
People have to get creative when packing a shoe box, and we found many great ideas, as well as a few humorous ones like this lion puppet with toothpaste in its backside.
On this day I was the taper. Every box that got processed at our station got wrapped thru the center with tape. I estimate I taped over 500 boxes in my 6 hour shift. I was surprised when my hands weren't sore, when one of my friends pointed out that it's probably because I milk goats, so my hands get a daily workout. Possible?
This is where broken or torn shoe boxes go to be repacked into different boxes. We also brought a few that were just plain too small for everything inside. I thought it was a creative name. The pallets on the floor had triage type names too.
I think this is our first day, that's my mom on the right in red. Her job was to open the box and look for money. Each shoe box costs about $7 to ship, so they ask for a donation to help cover that. All money gets dropped into a locked box at the front of the table.
This is the contents of one of the boxes. Wet wipes for kids, sidewalk chalk, candy, art supplies, personal grooming items and little toys. We saw some cute ideas for gifts and ways to present them.
If you like to give, and you really like to give to kids, I encourage you to learn more about this ministry. It's best to learn now and buy little things all year long than to wait until next year and try to fill a box with full priced items. All items must be new, so no thrift store or yard sale finds allowed. However, we saw a number of boxes come through with State Farm coloring books and my guess is those are free from an agent. I'm going to find out, and collect other similar freebies during the year. Happy Meal toys (we don't go there anymore, but it's an idea to look into), clearance items, the dollar section at Target-all places to shop whenever you're there.
A few times per year my mom and I meet at an outlet mall that's about an hour away from each of us (we live two hours apart). It's usually to let her take TJ for a couple of days, but we do shop there also. My brain wasn't engaged when we were there a few weeks before the main collection week. We saw lime green gellie shoes for $2, and packs of Star Wars underwear for $3. I ended up spending $6 for underwear to go into my boxes. I did however, remember to take advantage of the back to school sales and buy LOTS of penny crayons, etc at that time.
Some people wrapped a bar of soap in a washcloth and tied it with a bow. None of the presents can be wrapped, since the box has to be inspected. We did find a few that had wrapped gifts inside, and the mission of this outreach is to not disturb the integrity of the box, except for inappropriate items, so once those presents were unwrapped, the paper goes back into the box. The purpose being that we don't know what God has planned for any of the items in the box. Many people pray about what to include and it's not our job to interfere with that. Some boxes had bows on the outside that simply got moved to the inside. Many of the boxes themselves were wrapped-so that the lid could be removed without unwrapping-and we decided that it's not really a good idea. The paper gets torn during handling, and then the box is wrapped with packing tape around the center. It's nice to let your kids draw on the boxes and include a handwritten note to the child that will receive the box though.