Oper­a­tion Christ­mas Child: the shoe­box appeal

Exhibited by
Amy Cruse.
June 10, 2013
Medium of Communication
Event, online
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Children, youth and family, public/society benefit
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
December, 1990

SOFII’s view

This festive exhibit is a wonderful example of how one person’s idea (and a lot of help from volunteers) can really make a difference. Since 1990, Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox appeal has grown from strength to strength. Their clear objective and educational purpose have appealed to thousands. And with their recent innovations, they are clearly adapting their appeal to attract modern audiences in order to maintain their success.

Creator / originator

Dave Cooke, Operation Christmas Child.

Summary / objectives

Operation Christmas Child’s shoebox appeal is the largest children’s Christmas project. It aims to give Christmas presents to children in need and has been taking place annually throughout the last 20 years. Every Christmas people are asked to create shoeboxes full of presents to take to a local ‘drop-in’ point, then they are sorted and delivered to children across the world. Although the appeal is open to everyone, children, in particular, are encouraged to create their own shoeboxes in order to help them understand the value of giving to others.


The roots of the shoebox appeal stem from a fundraising initiative by Dave Cooke in 1990, who felt compelled to help children in Romanian orphanages after watching a TV news item about them. He encouraged people in his local town of Wrexham, North Wales, to donate aid to be delivered to Romanian orphanages. There was an overwhelming response from the local community and over £60,000 was raised, some of which was in the form of shoeboxes filled with Christmas presents for the children. The success of the initiative helped to generate a lot of publicity and in the following years the scheme continued to grow, with tens of thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes being donated from different communities and schools across the UK. In 1995, Operation Christmas Child merged with Samaritan’s Purse, which helped to launch the shoebox appeal in other countries, and donors all over the world were able to fill shoeboxes with presents to be delivered to children in need.

Special characteristics

A combination of special characteristics has helped Operation Christmas Child to continue to grow successfully. Firstly, the organisation has a large number of registered volunteers, who annually visit schools, workplaces and other focal points of communities to actively spread the message of the shoebox appeal. The volunteers are also responsible for organising the huge task of delivering the shoeboxes across the world.

Secondly, although the aim of the scheme has remained constant – providing gift-filled shoeboxes for children in need – the ways people can do this is diversifying. For example, as of this year shoeboxes can also be created online, with donors selecting from a range of gifts to include in their shoebox. These virtual shoeboxes are put together manually by Operation Christmas Child volunteers and are then delivered to the children. This new method of giving aims to make participation in the scheme quicker and easier, as well as extending the reach of the appeal potentially to anyone with access to the internet. However, ultimately, the organisation’s new innovations for fundraising would not be possible were it not for their volunteers, demonstrating the importance of recruiting and maintaining voluntary support.

Influence / impact

In 2009, approximately 1.2 million children from 13 countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa received shoeboxes filled with presents. These shoeboxes were delivered to children who otherwise would not have received anything at Christmas, such as children in hospitals, orphanages and from families living in poverty. Operation Christmas Child plan carefully where the shoeboxes will be delivered to reflect those most in need, and it has been decided that this year some of the shoeboxes will be sent to children in Haiti, which is struggling to recover from the earthquake in January.


Since the launch in 1990, over 81 million shoeboxes have been donated to children across the world through Operation Christmas Child, demonstrating how successful the appeal has been. Other funds raised by Operation Christmas Child have also been invested in projects to help improve the quality of life for children across the world, for example developing soccer projects (football camps), building play areas and improving access to clean water.


Operation Christmas Child is an excellent example of how a small initiative can take off if it strikes a chord with people and can also gain invaluable voluntary support. We are told that Christmas is a time for giving and the scheme embraces this seasonal generosity. However, the appeal also provides something in return: a valuable opportunity to teach children of the importance of helping others. By having such a clear educational purpose, Operation Christmas Child can appeal to a large audience year after year, which accounts for the organisation’s continual success and growth as new methods help make participation in the appeal simpler.

Other relevant information

Watch the video clip here.

Operation Christmas Child rely on volunteers to help deliver the shoeboxes to children overseas.
Warehouse full of packed- up shoeboxes to be delivered to destinations across the world. Photo: Ken Street.
The first ever convoy by Operation Christmas Child in 1990, leaving Wrexham to deliver aid to children in Romanian orphanages.