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Tips on Writing a Letter to Include in Your Operation Christmas Child Shoebox

How to write a letter to include in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

An important part of packing an Operation Christmas Child shoebox is a letter to the child.  It helps make the gift more than just "things" but a reminder that they are cared about.  Some recipients are in orphanages and may have no one who "belongs" to them.  We all want to feel special and that we "belong" to someone.  So, this is a great thing to include.  And if at all possible, please include a photo.  It gives them a real connection to you, helps them picture you/know you are a real
person.  There is also the chance to hear back--I've gotten both letters and emails back from the children, so that is another incentive.  And the first letter I got back included a request for me to send a photo back, so they must really like it.

Letters from Operation Christmas Child recipients
Letter's Sarah has received from her Shoebox Kids.

If you're like me, it can be hard to know what to write to a complete stranger.  I was looking online to get some ideas and didn't find much Operation Christmas Child specific.  So I decided to try to come
up with my own list of ideas and share it in case it can help someone else.

First, if you have children or want to do something simple, Samaritan's Purse offers a coloring/fill in the blank sheet you can print and use.  Here's the link for the Operation Christmas Child Coloring Sheet.

So, what to write on?  This year I made a basket of left over Christmas cards from previous years (who ever gets exactly the number they need in the boxes they buy?), and some Christmas Stationery I'd picked up over the years on after Christmas clearance and some pens, then everyone at the party can pick what they want to write on/with for each box.  The cards are great if you don't have much time, or feel like writing much, at least you can sign it an share your photo and address.

Writing supplies for Operation Christmas Child shoebox letters

You'll probably want to include your address or email address as you may hear back from them.  My family has received mail back Zambia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Belarus as I recall and emails from South Africa and Burundi.

Christmas cards for Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts
Christmas Cards left from family
mailings or purchased
on clearance after Christmas.
  • I try to remember to print rather than use cursive, I'm guessing that will be easier to read for people for whom English isn't their first language.
  • If you include your address (see UPDATE note at bottom of this post) be sure to put USA after your zip-code, so the other country knows where to send it.
  • You may wish to include envelopes in your box, although a number I got back were in actual airmail envelopes!
  • But DO NOT include stamps, they can only be used in America, and only a small percentage of the boxes stay in America going to Indian reservation
  • You can put your card in lose, or in an envelope, but if you use an envelope DO NOT seal it!  The boxes have to be gone through by volunteers so that they can go through customs, and having done this myself I know that we needed to check in the envelopes to be sure the donation for shipping was not in that envelope.  To help the volunteers know what the envelope is, I normally write something like "To: My new friend" or something on the outside of the envelope with the card/note in it.

Ideas of what to write, (not all in every letter, just ideas to go off of) :
  • I always start with my name "Hi!  I'm Sarah"
  • I packed this box/picked these items for you-hope you like them
  • Some ideas from the OCC coloring sheet
    • Where you live - what state, do you live in a big city or small town, etc.
    • What do you like to eat/drink?
    • What's your favorite game?
    • What you like to do in your spare time?
    • Your family-spouse, kids, etc.
    • Do you have pets?
      Small writing tablets for Operation Christmas Child shoebox letters
      Small writing tablets found after
       Christmas on clearance
      at stores like Dollar General or free in
      fund raising mailings
  • Maybe mention something in the box which could help your notes be different for each child if you're packing multiple boxes
    • If it  had a duck in it I might say that was my favorite when I was little
    • If something is your favorite color/sport/team/game/etc.
    • If I put in a puzzle I might mention my great aunts really enjoy building them
    • If I did a snow theme I might mention that I like snow, but don't get much here, would like white Christmas
    • ...you get the idea!
  • If you're a Christian you might like to (I believe this is allowed in US Boxes only):
  • colorful pens for letter writing
    Colorful pens make it fun.
    • Share a favorite Bible verse,
    • Say "Jesus Loves You"
    • You're praying for them
  • Some other ideas I found around the internet
Letter Writing Kit for Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box
Sarah also shared on her blog how to make a stationery packet to put into a shoebox. Click image for her post.

What do you like to write in your shoebox

UPDATE:  After posting this on our Facebook Page Crafting for Shoeboxes shared the following:  "OCC in the UK advise against providing your postal address, for safety reasons. {A friend} has started putting her e-mail address on the back of her Christmas cards. She received a message containing a photo of a thank you note a boy had written to her and another one of him holding his box - she was delighted."  So this is certainly something to consider when writing your letter to include in your shoebox.

We have other posts in this series of including a letter and also receiving letters or emails back.  You can find them all here:  Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Correspondence.

Have you ever wondered which type of shoebox is best to pack in?  Read our review of shoeboxes in this post:  What Type of Shoebox to Use When Packing an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.


Denise Marie said...

Sarah, I am SO glad you have had positive experiences with a letter. I have mixed emotions about letter/pictures now. I got e-mails from Togo from a "Pastor's son". I was SO excited. 1 thing led to another & the whole "church family" asked me to send $10,000. to build a school??

Lesson learned: keep it simple, maybe I'll send pics of beautiful flaura /fauna, animals, nature around me that is diff than they see there.

Anonymous said...

I send post cards of the state I live in, Florida. But adding an email to it could be easy. Maybe I'll try it this year. All my boxes last year went to India.

Cheryl @ Simply Shoeboxes said...

I love the post card idea! I never see any anymore, I'll have to go on a hunt! I love knowing where my boxes go.

karla said...

Postcards can usually be found at drugstores and gas stations along major interstates. I have a stack and have been using them for my note-writing in boxes as well.
We've received 5 letters back over the years we've been packing and only one asked for something - the letter was written by the mom and she asked if I could send more pencils for her other children. I didn't, because I didn't want to start something. :D

Joyce Ackley said...

I included a computer written letter in my boxes this time, but no picture. I told the recipient a little about myself and my family. I talked about my grandkids and what they like to do, and I described my state, Florida.

I didn't include my email address. I felt a little funny about that.

I ordered some free address labels from York Photo. I had to pay only shipping for 30 labels. I don't think the offer is still valid, though. I had the addresses printed with a clip art picture of a gift, wrapped with a ribbon. A red heart was attached to the blue bow. The address side said: Packed with Love by, and then my name and address. I stuck one to the inside lid of each box. I really loved the labels.

Sarah said...

That sounds like a great letter Joyce & the labels sound supper cute! It's always hard to decide if/what address to include...this year I made myself some labels saying "Packed by Sarah" & my email address.

Anonymous said...

I usually keep it pretty simple - just mentioning my name, that I packed this box for them, and that I hope it helps them know how much God loves them.

I use my church's P.O. Box as my return address. I asked permission before doing this.

genealogyangel said...

As a volunteer at the warehouse in Baltimore, I saw that many people had included photos, letters, and mailing addresses. One lady in particular had packed many wonderful shoeboxes and her letter and photo was affixed to the inside cover of each box. Her letter included the sentiment that now the child has a "grandma" in the USA. We all thought it was so precious! One of the volunteers decided to write her a note to let her know that her boxes had been a blessings to us!

Cam said...

I use Walmart to create a Christmas card that includes our photo and includes a special note and our mailing address. I also have it say this box was packed in honor of...and I write in a name as I pack each box in honor of my friends and family. I take a photo of the box so my family and friends know this is their gift too.

I trace my hand at the bottom of the box with a little message that I am praying for them. In the article, it mentioned only Christian reference for US. I send Jesus reference items. Are they referring to boxes coming from US or going to the reservations in the US?

Sarah said...

Cam: That sounds great! I know they like to "see" who sent it! The honor idea is neat, I've considered something along those lines.

It's referring to those sent from the US (except special packing parties for restricted access countries. So, if you're in the USA sending items that reference Jesus is just fine! Boxes from different countries go to different countries, so I'm guessing the countries some other countries send to have persecution or something that lead them to not send them from those countries.

SandyK said...

Last year when we dropped our boxes off at the distribution center, the sign sad they were going to Rwanda. Sure enough, I received an email from a 20 year old boy that lived in Rwanda!!

Laura said...

Sarah I am just making sure I understood you right. I live in the USA so if I want to put a KJV Bible in the shoe box and want it to go outside of the USA it will??

Sarah said...

Laura-yes, when you live in the USA you can include religious items (such as Bibles) in your boxes.

Anonymous said...

I thought after they completed The Greatest journey class they received a bible in their OWN language?

Sarah said...

Yes, if they get a chance to do The Greatest Journey, and finish it, they should get a New Testament in their own language. But, not all get a chance to do that, or may be interested in it, or be able to finish it.

Swan said...

Laura, English isn't the first language of the vast majority of the children who receive shoe boxes. SO if you include a Bible, consider an easier to read translation, e.g. the Good News translation (aka Today's English Version) or the New Living Translation.

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