Having completed the full circle this year from buying the items and packing a box (or 6), to helping out in a warehouse to then travelling to Belarus and putting the shoeboxes in the hands of children - I have gained quite an insight and learnt so many new things, so I thought it was only right that I share.
Favourite items in the box
I have to be honest and say that not one child I came across got excited by the toiletry items. It might just be that in Belarus they do have this sort of thing available to them but basically they all just looked past those as they saw them in the box. That is, unless they were particularly fun, the type of wash mitts that are characters were pretty popular.
By far the most popular things were as you would expect - the toy item. They really seemed to love the traditional toys, the girls loved dolls and the boys liked cars, planes etc. It was an eye opener to hear the kids ask me what some items were, I realised that when we make the boxes up we use our Western , affluent perspective and put in the things that might be popular with our kids, like the plastic 'silly bandz' bracelets - they had no idea what these were.
Also popular - hats, gloves and scarfs, colouring items, cuddly toys and jewellery.
Tips from the warehouse
I went and spent a few enjoyable hours at a local warehouse checking the boxes and this turned out to be really enlightening, I'll share with you the thrifty tips I learnt there -
1. Include ribbon in girls boxes, they love to tie their hair up and make it look pretty. This costs us just pennies and just because it is not fashionable here right now does not mean children in other countries would not like them. And actually look my Miss E loves ribbons in her hair.
2. You can make up your own craft pack to include with the box. Look at below - some Christmas card fronts, coloured paper, perhaps ribbons, stickers and sparkles and a small glue stick and there you go - an instant pack of joy for a child. I bought a pack of 12 small glue sticks in Sainsburys in the summer for under £1 - crafts packs really can just cost pennies if you collect items in the sales and such.
3. You can buy multi packs of toothbrushes, soap etc and then just bag them up in a cheap sandwich bag or clingfilm. I have always bought single packs as I thought they had to be wrapped, but now I know you can wrap them yourself and this will make things even better value. Make sure those soaps are wrapped so they don't stink the box out and of course no soaps which look like food, we do not want to be confusing the kids that have not seen anything like before!
4. Can you knit? Yes, then you are onto a winner. Any kind of knitted item seemed to go down well, you can't do stuffed toys because of the fire safety issues but hats, gloves, puppets and even small handbags go down a storm. Look at these super cute little bags made from a child's metal bangle and a knitted sack - simple and perfect..
5. I have been chatting to a great lady, Tricia who helps out each year at the Wirral warehouse and asking her about her top tips. She reminded me that the cheapest items are often left out and are so appreciated by the kids. So please do remember to include some paper (pad etc) and sweets in each box.
6. Tricia also shared with me this image of some fashion dolls which have been made over ready to be sent in some lucky girls boxes. Remember what I said earlier, the kids abroad love the traditional toys. A new hair style, a bit of make-up and some handmade clothes do the dolls up a treat.
7. It was also pointed out to me that Chinese take-away dishes (you know the plastic type with a lid) can make great boxes for home-made puzzles, bracelet kits and board games made with bottle tops. There are some very clever and creative types out there. Check out the Wirral OCC community page on Facebook as well as the official OCC UK Facebook page for great ideas.
8. My biggest tip and the one I hear time and time again from everyone who is involved with making boxes is to plan and buy all year round. Not all items in £1 shops are badly made tat, if you regularly keep an eye you can buy great things and buying a little each month as the year goes by spreads the cost and makes it more affordable to make up a box or two.
Thank you to everyone involved in OCC, my increased involvement this year has been such a privilege. Just look at the picture below to know what a difference you make.
This is two of the lovely kids I met in Belarus. Egar and his little brother Vladik.