This time of year, many area residents gear up for a Christmas project: the annual collection of shoeboxes filled with gifts for children around the world.

Many churches gather Operation Christmas Child boxes from members. Those boxes then go to Florida Boulevard Baptist Church, which acts as a collection point for the region and loads the boxes onto 18-wheelers the week before Thanksgiving.

Anyone can participate, but there are some basic rules and suggestions. Visit samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child photo to see details.

Any average-sized shoebox, plastic or cardboard, can be used. Decide what gender and age range you you want the gift for.

Then fill it with gifts, remembering you don’t know who or what country will receive it.

Samaratain’s Purse, the organization that sponsors Operation Christmas Child, suggests putting in a “Wow” gift first. This is a larger item the child will be attracted to. Then, the rest of the box can be filled with small toys, school and art supplies, and hygiene items.

Items to avoid include anything used, broken or war-related and liquids.

The Samaritan’s Purse Site also has stories from recipients and a way to pay for and fill a box online.

Another viewpoint can be found at the blog written by Corey and Katie Garrett, who are missionaries in Senegal. Visit garrett.with.sim.org and search for shoebox to read about their experience with the project and their suggestions for filling a box.

Under the heading Best Gifts, Katie Garrett writes, “For any age boy here, what they really want is a soccer ball. So get the best quality mini soccer ball that you can fit into the box when it is inflated (or send a deflated ball with a pump) and you can basically forget about anything else!”

She also suggested some items under “best” that aren’t necessarily ones Americans would think of:

  • Brand new nice short-sleeved shirts (with no writing on them) for boys and girls.
  • Small flashlight with batteries
  • Good quality melamine plate, bowl, and/or cup
  • Soap with a soap box and toothbrush in a cover
  • Pencils, erasers, colored pencils and sharpeners for all school-aged kids

The Garretts also suggest items not to include. Some examples with some of their rationales:

  • Anything with instructions in English, even if it seems simple to you
  • Any toy that is not universally recognizable
  • Gloves, winter hats
  • Stuffed animals (“Young kids here usually burst into tears when presented with stuffed animals from their shoeboxes. … Animals carry meanings here that are culturally specific. … You can’t know what the animal will signify in the culture your box reaches.”)
  • Stickers or temporary tattoos (“Kids don’t have anywhere to stick the stickers, and often the pictures don’t … connect with their world. For example, cute puppy stickers don’t make much sense in a Muslim country because dogs are considered unclean in Islam.”)
  • T-shirts with words or pictures on them. … Stick with solid colors, stripes or pretty designs.
  • Anything cheap or fragile (“One box had a white skinned, red-haired porcelain doll in it.”)

Back at Samaritan’s Purse, the organization suggests including a personal note and a family for the child, Sometimes the children are able to write back.

For more ideas and information on what to put in or leave out, visit the Garretts’ blog, Samaritan’s Purse’s site or facebook.com/OCCshoeboxes. These are filled with what to send, what not to send and, in the case of Samaritan’s Purse site and Facebook page, give instructions and details on the project.