It's back-to-school time, and time to take advantage of one of the best sales of the year.
Though I post all the time about Compassion International, I don't think I've ever mentioned another ministry I'm almost quite as passionate about: Operation Christmas Child.
I think most people are at least familiar with this, but just in case it's new to anyone, a brief summary -- you fill a shoebox with Christmas gifts for a child living in poverty in another country. You take it to a local collection center (which can be found at the website above), they send it to a processing center run by Samaritans Purse, and from there, it gets shipped overseas and hand-delivered with love to a child in need. Pretty simple. Samaritans Purse also puts a "The Greatest Story Ever Told" booklet in the child's language in every box, and the children may then send off for a Bible Study by mail if they like, as well.
Simple, yet one of the most amazing ministries I've ever come across. It reaches kids. Not just kids, it often reaches entire families. There are even multiple cases where one shoebox has reached an entire village for Christ. For the monetary cost of a shoebox full of gifts? Now that's a wise investment no matter how you look at it.
And now is the time of year to make that money stretch even farther. One of the most useful and most desired categories of items to put in a shoebox is school supplies. And right now, you can buy school supplies for pennies. Boxes of crayons, scissors, glue, all 20 cents each. Why pay $4 for a box of markers in November when you can get them for 80 cents now? Why, you can fill five shoeboxes with school supplies right now for the amount of money you'd pay to fill one in a couple of months!
So let me encourage you to run out now and buy up those school supplies and stow them away until November comes. You'll be glad you did!
Other cost-cutting ways to fill a shoebox? Buy candy (I get the huge bags of kiddie mix - no chocolate is permitted in the boxes as it can melt) right after Halloween at 75% off. It's too late for this this year but be thinking on it next year -- right after both Valentine's Day and Easter you can often get small stuffed animals 75% off too. And keep an eye out for clearance clothing throughout the year - bright colors are especially coveted by these kids so the crazier, the better! I just found little girls' socks and underwear in the Target dollar bins at 50% off in some wild and crazy colors that will be perfect! Check the dollar store and buy in bulk too -- I usually pick up a bag of hair accessories, a package of bracelets, a box of toy cars, a package of bouncy balls, etc. each for just a dollar and divvy up the items between five or six boxes -- again, a way to save a lot of money and bless a lot of kids too!
If everybody who filled one shoebox last year would spend the same amount of money, but be able to fill four or five shoeboxes this year by following these guidelines, just think how many happy children there will be around the world this year. Not to mention how many happy children of God there will be in heaven someday because of it... :)