I try to teach my children that it’s better to give than to receive.
Even if you aren’t a person of faith (which I am), this is not a bad rule to live by.
Since this is the month when we Americans usually take a step back and look at all the blessings in our lives, it’s only fitting that we also try to share some of those blessings with others.
One of the ways that my family does this is by sending shoebox gifts to poor children in under-developed countries around the world.
Usually we do one box per member of the family. The kids do one for a child the same age as them, and my husband and I each do one for an older child. This year, Sadie, who’s nine, decided she wanted to set a goal of ten boxes for our family instead of our usual six.
We collect things throughout the year to fill our boxes with: gloves and hats when they go on clearance in the spring; crayons and pencils and spiral notebooks when they’re on sale at back-to-school time; hard candy after Halloween. We have a drawer in the laundry room labeled “Shoebox Kids” that we throw things in for eleven months prior to the big day (the big day being our Shoebox Packing Party.)
Usually we spread everything out on the floor and fill our boxes together as a family. This year, we decided to invite some other family and friends over to join in the fun (and to share some cider, donuts and a giant bonfire with us.) If we were going to make ten boxes, why not shoot for twenty instead?
Friends and people from church donated hygiene items like soap and toothpaste, small toys, and school supplies to add to our supplies, so by the time the day of the party arrived, our house was overrun with stuff.
The girls and I sorted like crazy, filling bins and baskets with gum, candy, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bouncy balls, stuffed animals, pencils, crayons, markers, washcloths and all kinds of other things. By the time our fellow box packers arrived, we had a whole assembly line ready to go.
My kids chose things carefully for their “new friends across the sea.” Josie made sure that the 8-year-old girl she was packing for got the special bride and groom doll set she loved. Sadie put in a necklace craft and a princess doll. Adelaide gave her 5-year-old counterpart a coloring book and lots of art supplies – along with a fuzzy dog. Jed didn’t care so much about the school supplies, but he wanted his friend to get a wind-up walking dinosaur, a ball and a toy tractor.
We made sure each child would also receive soap, a new washcloth, a toothbrush, toothpaste and markers, crayons, or colored pencils. We put little cups and collapsible water bottles in some boxes and sewing kits, rubber stamps, socks, and fuzzy blankets in others.
One thing that was new for us this year was the adding in of little LED flashlights to most of the boxes. I read an article that explained how many of the areas where shoeboxes are delivered are ravaged by war – many times there is absolutely no electricity and since some children are afraid of the dark, flashlights are most welcome.
We filled out All About Me pages, including photos of ourselves and a map showing our country and state, so each child would know where his or her gift originated. Last of all, we traced our hands on our box lids so we could “hold hands” with our new friends.
It’s a small thing – just a shoebox.
It contains things we take for granted. It’s filled with everyday necessities. It’s filled with little toys.
But when it comes from your heart – or from a child’s heart – it’s also filled with love.