Monday, December 5, 2011

Operation Christmas Child 2011-Processing Center Day One

Tony and I just got back to our hotel after working a day at the processing center for Operation Christmas Child.  It was my second time to be here and Tony's first.  I taped boxes until we stopped for lunch around 1PM, and Tony was the heavy lifter.  That's the only job I haven't done and probably won't this year.  After lunch I moved to inspector and worked on the same aisle as Tony, so he helped me when I'd get a little backed up.  I like to work quickly and that's how it was last year, since we (mom and I) were first timers with seasoned veterans.  Today I was the "seasoned" veteran working with first timers.  At one point there were two ladies checking the boxes for monetary donations while I was the sole inspector looking for inappropriate items.  I could keep up until there'd be a box with stuff I had to take out, or a box would be so full I couldn't get things back in, but it was more exciting that way. 

Inappropriate items include anything liquid (bubbles, lotion, liquid body soaps, mouthwash, etc); any food item (except candy-seems the rats won't eat that, so why do we?); chocolate because it can melt; anything breakable (think mirrors, picture frame glass); war related items like army men; pokemon and Harry Potter items; aerosol items; used/damaged goods; medications or vitamins.

At first it feels like you have to remove everything to be able to tell if it's all allowed, but after a while I develop a pretty good ability to spot those things without even really "seeing" all of it.  You might be wondering what happens to those things that can't be sent or maybe even why some aren't allowed.  Anything pulled from a box goes to a local Christian ministry that will use it in their outreach.  So don't feel bad if you filled a box and put something in that I had to take out-it's still going to a good cause.  As for why certain things aren't allowed, either the item has the potential to leak and damage many boxes; attract rodents that will destroy boxes; break and be a hazard; or has the potential to cause harm in the community where the box is given.  I trust that the powers that be at Samaritan's Purse have given this careful thought and much prayer.

If a box doesn't have very much in it, we have trinkets available to add to the box, so all kids get a good variety.

Some ideas of what NOT to do, just to make the processing of hundreds of thousands of boxes easier:
  • No tissue paper in the box, UNLESS it's shorter than the height of the box.  Trying to stuff all that tissue back into the box slows things down.
  • A full box is fabulous-one that requires a master packer to get it all back in is not.
  • Do not wrap the entire box-it has to be inspected, so it's going to be opened.  You can wrap the lid and box separately, making it possible to get into the box without unwrapping it though.
Some cute things I saw that would be fun to do next year:
  • Some of the boxes had been wrapped with flannel material.  It makes a great presentation and I'm sure the child that receives it will be thrilled with the added gift.  However, if you do this, PLEASE don't overfill.  The fabric makes the taping difficult because it doesn't stick very well, and a stuffed box is just that much harder.
  • Color coordinated items in the box, especially for girls.  It's visually appealing and in my opinion, adds to the thrill of the gift.
  • Boys and girls age 5-9 get the most boxes.  Consider packing your box for the 2-4 year olds, or the 10-14 year olds.
  • Get together with a group to craft some of the items.  I saw little bears that had been cut from material and stitched.  Knitted hats.  We made yarn dolls to go in some of our boxes.
  • Pez dispensers.  When I saw these I kicked myself for not buying the box of vintage ones we saw recently at a flea market that would have been inexpensive and a great combo gift.
  • Baseball mitts.  Soccer balls (deflated and with hand pump-I think).
  • We're told that the older boys often have jobs and need tools.  Consider packing duct tape, screw driver, hammer, or other basic supplies along with a few fun things.
Ideas for getting great stuff without spending a fortune:
  • Shop the back to school sales.  Crayons, markers, paper, pencils and sharpeners, etc are all very cheap during those sales. 
  • Always check the clearance racks when shopping.  The little JC Penney near me often has off season clothing marked down at least 75%.
  • If you frequent fast food restaurants, buy the kids meal and keep the toy for a shoebox (if your kids won't get upset!)
  • Use coupons to purchase personal care items greatly reduced.
  • Ask your dentist to donate toothbrushes and toothpaste.
  • Ask your insurance agent if they have coloring books or other goodies that would be fun filler.
  • Buy trinkets and candy the day after any holiday for deep discounts.
I write this as much for my own memory as to share with you what you can do to help.  Have you packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child?  Got any tips to share?