Here's the first, of what will hopefully be many interviews:
When and where did you distribute shoeboxes?
I traveled to Tanzania in east Africa the end of May 2015 into June 2015.
About how many kids were at the distributions you attended?
We attended 5 distributions and 1 Greatest Journey event. In all I saw about 1000 children! It was amazing. I think the TGJ event was the smallest, about 140 children. The biggest distribution was about 225 children.
Please share a little about your trip and the distributions:
I can’t even begin to explain how life changing this week was. We saw so many precious children, many with so very little. Many children had no shoes. Some had very ratty clothes. They came to the distributions with the best they had and were very grateful for their gifts. At each distribution the children were well behaved and respectful. What a blessing to be able to be there and interact with them.
It's so hard to put that whole week into a few paragraphs. But I will say that after coming home I have not been the same and packing boxes is even more of an obsession. I saw so many with so little and they were so very thankful even in their want.
During our week we attended 5 distributions. Each one was a little different but the kids were all so precious!
If you'd like to read the whole story of her distribution trip, she's shared it on Shoebox Shoppers on Facebook.
What's your favorite memory?
It's hard to call this a "favorite" memory because it was hard to see but it was by far the most powerful memory of my trip.
At our 4th distribution we were are the poorest church we had been at. I noticed one little boy right away. He was about 8 years old, wearing a tattered green shirt and dirty shorts. No shoes. He never smiled throughout the singing, stories and fun with the boxes. We got the interpreter and asked about him. The pastor told us that he was homeless, without parents and lived outside the church. Talk about gut wrenching. He broke our hearts. One of the girls on our team gave him her box and in it there was a shirt, shorts, shoes (all the right size) and his very own soccer ball. He told her that he had never owned his own ball. He still never smiled but he held that box VERY tightly. It broke my heart to think about leaving knowing that he would be there. Even after I got home I thought of him often and have shared his picture endlessly so that I could make sure people were praying for him. I like to know at least that he felt a small bit of God’s love for him through that box and our visit. I sometimes find myself thinking of him when I am doing something frivolous and feel guilty because I know that I am doing something fun while across the world he has nothing. It brings tears to my eyes wishing one of us could have brought him home.
What items did you notice the kids really enjoying and/or needing? Maybe something you'll be adding to or emphasizing in your packing in the future?
I would say the favorite item by far were pictures of the person who sent it and the letters they sent. So many kids wanted me to see their pictures and their letters. Baby dolls, barbies and rag dolls were very popular with the girls. Stuffed toys are in a LOT of my pictures. Balls were always a hit with boys and girls. Honestly, my packing won't change much as far as what TO send. I love to send most of the items that they seemed to enjoy.
Is there anything you personally won't be packing as much in boxes in the future based on what you saw?
Personally I share a LOT now about packing OCC size boxes because there was a large disparity of box sizes and kids NOTICE it. Additionally there were some items that were poor quality and I am fierce about making sure we share quality items. In particular I don't send yo-yo's anymore unless I can find GOOD quality ones. I had a sweet 11 year old boy want me to show him how to use it and when he tried the first time the yo-yo broke. :( Additionally, I won't send a slinky again. I saw a bunch of kids pull it out and and pull it apart and then it wasn't usable. I have to add that these are MY personal opinions and I'm not telling anyone else what to not send.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with fellow shoebox packers?
There is so much I want to share. But here is the most important take away of the week. I want everyone to know how much what they do is appreciated:
At our 4th distribution the Bishop and his wife were so overwhelmingly appreciative of us and the ministry and these tiny boxes that we brought. The most powerful moment of this entire trip was praying with the Bishop and his wife. We were in a circle around them and I had my hands on her back while we prayed. She was overcome and fell to her knees and sobbed and cried out to the Lord. I crouched down next to her and rubbed her back while she cried. I couldn’t speak her language though and she couldn’t speak mine. I could just be present with her. When we were done praying she went off to the side to pray and her wailing made me overcome with emotions. She was so very grateful for the very small gifts that we brought and it made me humbled. They are so easy for us to make and send and mean SO much to them. Overwhelmed and humbled.
Let's keep packing!
REMINDER: this advice is just based on one person's opinion based on their personal experience in one country. This is not official from Operation Christmas Child whose guidelines are the only thing incumbent on us to follow and are based on thousands of distributions in dozens of countries over many years and based on feedback from local partners as well as customs regulations. These regulations are different for different sending countries, so be sure to check out the rules for your own country/region (OCC USA, OCC Canada, OCC UK, OCC AU, OCC Japan, etc.).