Last December I spent an afternoon helping to pack boxes for Operation Christmas Child and learned three things:

1. Operation Christmas Child is ah-may-zing.

2. Working a packing line is nothing like a Lucy and Ethel comedy. Not saying it wasn’t fun, but no chocolates where shoved in my mouth.

3. Boys ages 10-14 are painfully underrepresented.


In case you’re not familiar with OCC, they gather thousands and thousands of packed boxes of Christmas gifts. People over around North America have prepared boxes filled with gifts for either a boy or a girl in the age categories of 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. Can you guess which kids got the most boxes? Of course you can, because you’re no dummy. Girls ages 2-4 and 5-9. And I get it. I really do. All that cute girl stuff!! Who wouldn’t love to get one of those boxes?!

A boy age 10-14, that’s who. OCC is driven by the generosity of thousands and do their best to distribute what they have. But if you only have girl boxes for 2-4 or 5-9 year-olds, what can you do?

I have a friend who works at a home in India where kids get these boxes and she says it’s heart breaking to see a boy ask for a boy box and … then be given a girl box. It’s a small thing. Or is it?

If girls were being ignored, we’d go all Title IX about it and yell “Girl power!” But it’s not girls, it’s boys.

The truth is, I think you’re like me and want to pack a box for a boy, but don’t know what to get. I’ve been thinking about this all year and have done informal polling on Facebook — wow, the ideas that poured in. Thank you.

Good news, this is a solvable problem! Here are 11 gift ideas for boys ages 10-14 with a few reminders from my friend:

  • Aim for the lower end of the age range, in this case age 10.
  • These kids are raised without IPADs or computer games—don’t think North American boy. These are the poorest of the poor.
  • Boys in that age range like coloring books too.
  • Dollar stores have good stuff for boys!

Gift ideas

1. Card games —it doesn’t matter that they can’t read the rules, they’ll make up their own! Ideas include: Old maid, crazy eights, or Go fish

2. Items with Super heros, sports, or cars (maybe not American football and you know it pains me to say :)). Boys are boys are boys. Oh, not stuff with war toys or weapons. But there’s a lot out there with super heroes, sports or cars!

3. Small toys—like yo-yo’s, balls on a string, I found a small board game for basketball involving a dice and two pegs (dollar store type of place), marbles.

4. Legos—turns out this is really popular! They can get expensive. The cheapest (and good for small boxes) are creator lego sets and they go for $4.95 at Barnes and Noble. or Target.

5. Round things—small balls, nerf balls, and I’ll say it again, marbles.

6. Logic games and puzzles—guess what, Rubik Cubes are big in the junior high scene in America this year. So, you can find them fairly easily. Or variations for Rubik Cubes (remember those snakes? and circles?). Puzzles — I found small puzzles with cars, trucks, or cartoon characters playing basketball. Dominos are good too!

7. Toothbrush and comb—You can also put a bar of soap in the box (but no liquids like toothpaste). Hey, they might prefer a box of all toys, but their teeth will thank them later.

8. Coloring books and crayons—just not princesses or too girly. Sports, super heroes, animals. You might think this is below them, it’s not. Other school supplies too — colored pencils, markers, small notebooks.

9. Flash-lights and batteries—Can’t you picture a group of boys playing with flashlights?!

10. Solar calculator—How else will they learn the magic of 43046721? (Take the square root, take the square root, take the square root, take the square root and what do you have? Other than a whole lot of fun?!) These are things we’ve been conditioned to think are not fun. Well, we’re wrong :).

11. Something silly—like fake teeth or plastic bugs. I can just hear the laughter now! And Jesus smiling. He was a boy after all.

11.5 What Bonnie said in the comments—We include a bar of soap and wash cloth, toothbrush, bandana, drawstring bag, ruler, a level, screwdriver (one philips and one regular), bungee cords, pair of work gloves, marbles or nerf ball, pencil pouch with pencils, sharpener, eraser and colored pencils or crayons, and a small stuffed animal.

Here is a PDF to print off and share with people at church or work who also want to help boys but feel stuck.operationchristmaschild-boyideas-high 

(Thanks Katherine for using your mad graphic skills!)

I hope that helps you with ideas and gets you excited to SHOP FOR BOYS — my new mini-campaign (#shopforboys). Care to join me? You can find more about Operation Christmas Child and how to pack a box here.

There are small and simple ways to make a difference in the life of a boy, who will grow up to be a man. The news often makes me feel more helpless than I really am. We are not helpless! We can #shopforboys. Would you consider helping to get this message out? Girl boxes may outnumber boy boxes, but let’s dent that ratio!

Are you with me?



Leave A Comment

  1. Laura Connell November 12, 2014 at 5:52 am - Reply

    Thank you – you just inspired me to do another box for a boy. We did our girl boxes already so I’ll grab another one before the deadline this weekend and fill it with your ideas!

  2. LeAnne November 12, 2014 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Extremely well said. I almost had tears in my eyes reading it. I’m going to tuck your thoughts into the back of my mind, and if we’re ever in the States again over Christmas, I’m choosing Boys ages 10 -14!!! Bless those sweet boys. And, yes, even the not so sweet ones! ha!

  3. Tanya Marlow November 12, 2014 at 9:56 am - Reply

    This is such a genius idea! Great suggestions – it’s good to be helped to think outside of the Western box.

  4. Alia Joy (@AliaJoyH) November 12, 2014 at 10:03 am - Reply

    I love it! We shop for a boy in the 10-14 yr age range because I have three kids and they each do their own box for a child of the same age and sex. It’s fun to see what my 14 yr old picks out. You’ve mentioned a lot of great ideas. We did a yo-yo, a watch, and some fun snap kits (like Legos but flat discs.) I know when I was in Africa talking to our friends who work there, boys age 10-14 and up are also the hardest to find sponsorships for. Everyone tends to want the cute littler children or even the older girl. Thanks for sharing about this!

  5. Jamie Wright Bagley November 12, 2014 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Wow, this is a great list! And thank you for creating awareness for this need.

  6. Shona November 12, 2014 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    This is great. I will share it :)

  7. Bonnie Wilson November 14, 2014 at 7:19 am - Reply

    We try to be intentional for planning and buying items for the 10-14 boy age range. We include a bar of soap and wash cloth, toothbrush, bandana, drawstring bag, ruler, a level, screwdriver (one philips and one regular), bungee cords, pair of work gloves, marbles or nerf ball, pencil pouch with pencils, sharpener, eraser and colored pencils or crayons, and a small stuffed animal.

  8. Erin November 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    I filled my boxes 2 weeks ago…one for a girl and one for a boy! (Wish I would have read this post earlier!) Our pastor shared a story last Sunday about a member of our church who recently purchased her items at Target. She was chatting with the Target employee, and it turns out that the employee grew up in Ghana and was the recipient of one of those boxes when she was growing up!

  9. David Rupert November 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    This is very practical and useful. Too often I stuff those boxes and wonder, “is this right?”

  10. Jeanna Davis November 18, 2014 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Our small group picks the 10-14 age group, very neglected age group and we do half boys & half girls. 48 boxes on my dining room table right now to be taken to church this Sunday. Another great idea for boys, ball caps, small ponchos, and tools. Best boxes we’ve ever done, wish I could see their faces when they open them.

  11. Josh Bender November 20, 2014 at 6:31 am - Reply

    Very well said….

  12. Charlie Hendricks November 30, 2014 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    We are shopping and boxing up 5 boxes for our church this week. It’s tough to look for gifts for this age group as their needs and wants are not aligned. We don’t feel comfortable buying our kids iphones and air jordans.

  13. Miranda January 12, 2015 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    This made me open my eyes a little. I always pack the same amount for each gender and age, but I think from now on, I’m going to try to add a little bit more gender neutral stuff in them. Of course the girls will still get dolls and the boys will get cars, but a lot of things can go both ways like yoyo’s, tops, cups, water bottles… And the colour as well. Red is a good one, so is yellow, orange and blue. I want to do this just in case a boy or a girl gets a box not meant for their gender. At least that way they’ll still be able to use the gifts I have given them.

    Also, I believe it’s a great way to show that a girl doesn’t always have to be all pink and fluffy. I think that’s important too.

  14. Helen October 3, 2015 at 8:27 am - Reply

    I’d add a drawstring bag too. Boys need bags as well, just not in girly colours.

  15. Debra Tindall January 9, 2016 at 7:26 am - Reply

    Hey! Last year (2015) I did five boxes for the 10-14 age range (2 girls, 3 boys). It was a great experience for me to go out and shop for them at various stores like Rue 21, Old Navy, Walmart and the Dollar Tree. I’m a big clearance shopper and I was able to include shirts, under garments and small durable back packs in my boxes of hope. I also included a tarp, tools, bungee cords, various school supplies, Dominos, Checkers, bath items and a pair of shoes. Along with the boxes I included a letter, a picture of myself along with an I am a Child of God scripture declarations. Because I did follow your shoe box I received notification that my boxes of hope we’re headed to Ghana. Yeah, I’m so excited for the young people who will receive my gifts and for the many others who will be blessed by our efforts to be givers.
    Also, having volunteered at an OCC processing plant please do not ever include in your boxes of hope liquid items of any kind (lotions, nail polish, lip gloss, body wash, bubbles, etc), used items, old used stuffed toys, pocket knives, war related items just to name a few. Those items will be taken out of the boxes and donated to a local charity in the area of that city.

  16. Shelia September 14, 2016 at 7:52 am - Reply

    I always enjoy all these ideas, especially for the 10-14 boys. This year I’ve done much more shopping for this group. Also, I’ve tried to encourage my church to pack more for this age group. I ALWAYS think, just one more box‼️ Pack and Pray!!!

  17. Greg September 15, 2016 at 9:51 am - Reply

    For years now, I’ve done boys 10-14 boxes – having volunteered at the Distribution Center. My thing is to get a size 4 or 5 (yes, they come in sizes. 3-5 actually, 3 is the smallest and 5 is the full size). I insert a pump needle into the ball air valve (moisten the needle first) and squeeze as much air out of it as humanly possible. I put a very sturdy rubber band around it in order to keep the small shape profile. Finally, I include a ball pump with at least a half dozen needles. Where do I get the stuff, you ask? There are plenty of online soccer equipment suppliers that are open to the general public. Often they have a discounted item category that include a couple of balls of differing sizes. If you want to do a cool box for Boys 5-9, get a size 3 or 4 ball. Anyway, then I include personal hygiene items, a tool or two, writing instruments and paper, and CANDY!!! Remember, do NOT include predominantly chocolate candy…some shipments go to countries in the Southern Hemisphere where it is summer and the candy will melt all over the other items. M&M’s typically pass inspection, but not Reese’s Cups. NO war-related items…not even remotely related. NO CASH! That’s dangerous for the child…fights start over that – or worse. But, it was mentioned above to not include toothpaste because it’s liquid. Not true, toothpaste (not the rare liquid-type) is A-OK…give a big tube to the kid. It’s the lotions, shower gel-type soaps, shampoo, hand sanitizer, etc. that is not allowed and WILL be removed in the OCC box inspection line. And while I’m at it, do NOT secure the boxes with tape or big ornate bows, etc. Those bows and ribbons will be removed and either discarded or stuffed inside your box. Wrapping paper is fine, but remember that it WILL be taped securely in the inspection line. The boxes need to be easily and quickly opened by the inspector (a trained volunteer). Simply put a sturdy rubber band or two around the box and call it good. The wrapping mindset to have is: Will my box easily and simply fit into a big cardboard packing box at the OCC Distribution Center. 16-17 shoeboxes are the optimum number that will fit into the big boxes. And NOT the big boot boxes…a SHOEbox. Last year I saw a huge dog food box go through the line. It must have been 20×30. Needless to say, two things occurred: 1) It greatly reduced the number of shoeboxes in the shipping box (thereby reducing the total number of gifts available to that particular village) and 2) a lot of kids felt jealous of that kid…maybe started a fight, who knows. Be sensible, don’t try to give a closet or toy box to a kid. BUT, give, give, give! The kid is immeasurably blessed by it and so are we! I so love doing OCC shoeboxes!!!

    • marilyn hoy January 3, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Year 2017-no toothpaste, no candy of any kind, no foodstuff. I’m sure Operation Shoebox did not make the rules but they must follow them.

  18. Kim November 14, 2016 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    This article was so helpful! I am only packing boxes for boys age 10-14. Thanks for these great tips!

  19. Marsha Galloway January 17, 2017 at 9:47 am - Reply

    This is the best Idea List I have seen for these boys. When I read this, I knew this was the age group I wanted to serve. I was thinking of buying an extra large box of Classic Legos and distributing them among small tins of bags. Do you think this is a good idea? Should I include pictures of build ideas?
    Thanks for posting.

    • Avatar photo
      Amy January 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Marsha, glad you found this helpful! I think legos would be welcome :). Pictures would also be nice, but not necessary!

  20. Tia March 8, 2017 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    You cannot put card games in the boxes, and the rules state this, for most Countries. This is because in Countries with Sharia law, gambling is illegal and punishable sometimes by death :(

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