In this post I respond to some of the critique against Operation Christmas Child, which seems really overt this year.

Okay, I can understand the concern with Franklin Graham. When he opens his mouth, I usually cringe. His extremist statements about immigration, politics, religious liberty (etc) are embarrassing, simplistic, and often contradict biblical principles. He hurts the Operation Christmas Child ministry. I can understand why some do not want to support something associated with him, and I have actually contemplated no longer making boxes.

However, some of the other critique is rather inaccurate. For example, one article complained that the boxes “impact local, small, family-sized businesses that make or sell items that otherwise might be bought as gifts. This hits them especially during the Christmas season when much of their income is earned.”

Ummm, really? The shoeboxes are collected in November, but it takes all year to distribute them! Many are distributed months AFTER Christmas. Think about the logistics. Do you think they are Santa Claus, magically able to get these boxes all over the world in one night or in just 2-3 weeks in December? That would literally be impossible. So, the critique that it hurts small business owners at Christmas time makes little sense.

The complaint continued that it “displaced the efforts of local families to provide gifts to their children” and thus degrading to family dignity. As said, many of the boxes have no connection to Christmas time, and arrive at random times of the year. The family would not be buying gifts for their child in connection to a holiday, so I don’t think this is a particularly valid issue either. And umm, it is a shoebox with small items. I am not insinuating that the little things in the boxes aren’t helpful. I think they are. But by the tone of the complaints, one would think these were large and expensive items that made families feel deficient. And besides, some children have no family!

Some critical articles repeat ad nauseam that the boxes are filled with “cheap trinkets and toys.”  It can not be fully controlled what people put in the boxes, but quality and practical items are encouraged. Operation Christmas Child tries to educate, and tells people to include a mix of toys, school supplies, and hygiene items. Boxes are checked at a processing center before they go overseas, and inappropriate items are removed and deficient boxes improved upon. I volunteered at a processing center one year, so I know. While there were problematic boxes, it was rare that a box contained nothing but “cheap trinkets and toys.” A more common problem was boxes only half full.

Note: It is better to make less boxes that are full, than to make more boxes that are only half full!

One of my 10-14 yr old boy boxes this year contains: a spiral notebook, pens and pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener, a set of colored pencils, a set of dominoes, a quality harmonica, a stuffed animal, a Hot Wheels car, a hat, a flashlight with extra batteries, package of rope, a thick washcloth, bar soap, and a toothbrush. I buy quality items, and cautious with dollar stores. I put careful thought into my boxes, and pray it will be both helpful and enjoyed by the child who receives it.

Give your best. Shop for items year round. Do not wait until November. By shopping year round, you are better able to find quality items on sale, clearance, etc. Your expense is spread throughout the year, rather than all at once. And instead of grabbing “whatever” as you rush to fill a box in November, you can give more careful thought to what goes into it.

Charity can be toxic. Westerners dumping off loads of stuff can backfire. We don’t want to be naive. With these boxes going all over the world and to a variety of children in different circumstances, I am sure that boxes in some communities are more or less helpful. There are negative stories, but there are many positive stories too. From my understanding, Operation Christmas Child works with local groups in the countries so there is an in-country intermediary. National groups can benefit when there is proper team work between them and an outside group.

I wrote this to try to provide balance. Some of the critique out there is more valid than others. Some of it is outright unfair. Make sure your choice about boxes is based on all the facts. Pray for wisdom for Operation Christmas Child.

Update, a response to another criticism:  since you don’t know where your box is going,  children could get inappropriate items – such as hats/gloves in a hot climate! While this could happen, it is much less likely than portrayed. Temperature is subjective. When I was in Nairobi, Kenya in September, the temperature was in the 60’s Fahrenheit …and… the Kenyans were wearing coats/gloves/scarves/hats as though it was winter in Buffalo, NY! We could hardly believe it! A moderate temp to one culture is c-c-cold to another.