In college, I had a friend who grew up as a missionary in Haiti. I loved hearing her stories about life as a missionary kid and she had great examples of how people really showed love to her family and to the people of Haiti who they were serving. But, she also had stories of people trying to care for them, but doing so in a way that was entirely unhelpful… and sometimes even offensive. For example, one church sent her family used teabags. I guess they thought that my friend’s family could use the little bit of flavor that was left to make tea. Used teabags would be better than no teabags, right? My friend was very gracious as she talked about things like this, but I would have been seriously offended.
Thinking about used teabags taught me a valuable lesson about giving. If I’m not interested in something for myself or my own family, I shouldn’t attempt to give it to someone else. (By the way, I’m not talking about regifting. That can be a wonderful way to give a great gift if you know your recipient will like it! haha)
I think the main time we can see this happening is with gifts we give to charity. It can be so tempting for me to grab some old kid’s meal toys and then go to the dollar store and find anything that is pink and safe for a 2-4 year old, throw it in a shoebox, and send it off to Operation Christmas Child to give to a 2-4 year old girl across the world. Sometimes, I even justify it with the good intention that “This way I can afford to fill more shoeboxes to care for more children.”
But, as we fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child or stockings for Salvation Army or whatever other wonderful program, we need to remember that we are trying to care for real children, not just get our good deed done for the Christmas season. My 3 year old would be absolutely devastated if she opened a really fun-looking toy and it broke within the first hour of playing with it. So, I try to pay a little bit extra and give her quality toys that will last. As we fill shoeboxes/stockings for other people’s children to open, I think we should try to do the same thing.
I still shop at the Dollar Tree, the dollar spot at Target, and clearance sales. Shopped wisely, those can be the best sources for gifts to fill a shoebox! But, I think it’s important that we think beyond the price tag as we try to give great gifts to children’s charities… which might seem contrary to my “Give Great Gifts on a Bare-bones Budget” series that’s all about minimizing spending, but really, I’m just trying to make the gifts I give people who I want to love through charities more similar to the gifts I give people I want to love face-to-face.
If I’d feel weird giving a gift to someone in person, I don’t want to give it to them anonymously either.
My favorite places to find gifts for children’s charities are:
- Target – especially the dollar spot, but also in the general part of the store. They often have packages you can split up among several gifts
- World Market – their small toy section is filled with fun and unique toys, almost all of which fit in a shoebox or stocking
- Amazon – it’s a bit harder to find ideas for small gifts here than browsing a store, but there are great deals to be had and it’s especially good for those things you can split up between gifts
- Dollar Tree – perhaps the most obvious place to shop for gifts like this, I especially love their craft supplies and beauty products
With smart shopping, it’s definitely possible to fill an awesome stocking/shoebox for under $20. (I’ve done under $10 before, but that’s when I’ve been on the ball enough to shop sales all year long… Not gonna happen this year!)
Here’s my list of gift ideas for children’s charities:
- Toy cars
- Playmobil – Playmobil tends to be expensive, but they’ll last forever and some of the smaller sets are a good price like this Playmobil child and donkey for $5.14.
- Silly putty
- Playdoh – I’m going to split this Play-Doh 24 pack that’s $18 between a few boxes and save a few for my own kids’ stockings.
- Playdoh Cookie Cutters – I found this cute set of Rose Art brand playdoh tools/cookie cutters at Target for $1.
- Stickers – This set of 144 zoo animal stickers (12 sheets of 12 stickers each) is super cute and would be great to split between gifts ($3.54).
- Legos – You could include small sets of Duplos for younger kids or of the smaller Legos for older ones (Target often sells small sets for about $8 for the older kids… Remember, though, not to get anything gun/war-related!)
- Craft supplies like glue, foam stickers, and glitter.
- Toy animals – this set of jungle animals includes 5 each of 12 different animals. It’s $17.61, but if you break the set up between 5 gifts, that’s only $3.50 per child for 12 animals.
- Small stuffed animals
- Picture books
- Mini Etch-a-Sketch – This seems like one of the best gifts to me because it’s endlessly reusable, but I’ve never been able to find a great deal on them. Amazonhas them for $7.65 each.
- Thomas the Train “drawing board” – Similar to the etch-a-sketch, this is one of our most-used toys. I bought it at Target a couple years ago, but Amazon has it for $10. We use it nearly every day and it’s indestructible. Another valuable, albeit slightly more expensive, gift option!
- Sand toys – I got this set of 8 toys on clearance for under $2 at World Market. Michaels often has sand toys too, if we’re not too late in the season.
- Lacing cards – Right now, Target’s dollar section has a set of cute lacing cards for $3 that I was able to split up between a couple boxes.
- Travel-sized games
- Deck of cards – you can usually get a 2 pack at Target or the Dollar Tree for $1
- Uno – this is my favorite game to buy because the cards work no matter the language
- Puzzle – The Dollar Tree often has cute puzzles with around 30 pieces that would be good for 5-9 year olds
- 3-D puzzles – Puzzles like this 3-D Wooden Puzzle of Tyrannosaurus Rex would be fun for a 10-14 year old
- Pick up sticks – I loved this game! I found one random box of pick up sticks buried in the Target dollar section… hopefully your store has more than one!
- Finger paint
- Coloring books
- Craft kit – I found a kit to make a cute elephant mask at World Market for under $2. Target also often has craft kits in their dollar section & this is one of my favorite things to get at the Dollar Tree.
- Watercolor paint set – This set of 8 Crayola watercolors & paintbrush is $2.64 at Amazon.
- Pad of blank drawing paper
- Pencils & pencil sharpener
- Musical instrument – check out my list of favorite musical instruments for kids for some ideas
- Tools – Target has a sturdy Durabuilt wrench for under $1.50 that would be great in a 10-14 year old boy’s box. Other ideas include a small hammer or measuring tape.
- Flashlight and batteries – Last year, I found inexpensive but nice little flashlights at Home Depot near the front of the store… the section is sort of like a stocking stuffers area with all sorts of small tools.
- Hackysack balls
- Bouncy balls
- Paddleball game – You can get a dozen of these “psychedelic” ones on Amazon for $6.32.
- Jump ropes
- Sidewalk chalk
- Kite – World Market has these fun miniature kites that are good quality and fit in a shoebox for $3.50
- Lotion/body wash – this is allowed for Salvation Army stockings, but forbidden in Operation Christmas Child boxes
- Perfume/cologne – not allowed for Operation Christmas Child, but is fine for Salvation Army
- Solid deodorant
- Hair brush/comb – Beach Girl has a collapsible Hello Kitty brush from Target ($1) and she loves it, so I grabbed some for our shoeboxes too
- Hair bows
- Socks – Target had nice little girl socks on clearance for $.50/pair and Hanes socks that would fit teenage guys in larger packs that you could split up for about $1/pair
- Hard candy – this is okay for Operation Christmas Child if you double bag it, but not for Salvation Army (at least not my local one)
- A personal note from your family – This is one of the most valuable things you can include in your gift. Life Your Way has cute printable Christmas cards your kids can color or Operation Christmas Child has a printable coloring page you can have your kids fill out to include in your shoebox.
[I’ve included prices for some of these items to give you a general idea, but they’re subject to change. If you buy through any of my Amazon links, you’ll be helping to support stayatbeachmom.com. Thanks!]
Now for a few logistics – If you’re hoping to give to Operation Christmas Child, their collection week is November 12-19. You can find a local drop off center here. They also ask that you include $7 (either a check or pay online) to help with shipping since the boxes go to all ends of the earth. If you pay online, you can follow your box and see what country it goes to. Pretty cool! Also, you can fill just a regular old shoebox (shoe stores have been happy to give their old ones to me). But this year, I heard that if you pack a plastic shoebox, the children often reuse the boxes to carry water. *sniff* Target has Sterilite ones for only $.97.
Salvation Army seems to be a bit less centralized in their approach, probably because they keep their stockings local and needs vary between locations. I’ve had trouble finding information online, but whenever I’ve called a local branch, they’ve been super helpful and grateful for anything we’ve done (find the location by plugging in your zip code here). Generally, their deadlines are before December 15th.
I think these are both great programs with their own strengths; we generally switch back and forth between the two. If you know of another charity that has a program like these, I’d love to hear about it.
Any other ideas for how to fill your gifts or great deals you’ve found? Please share them in the comments! Oh, and Happy Halloween! I’ll be taking a little ladybug and either a train conductor or a princess out tonight… depending on what she decides as she gets dressed haha. Have fun!