I hope you have a blessed Christmas full of family, love, and joy!
I believe I’ve mentioned Operation Christmas Child here on the blog before. My family has been involved with this organization for eight years now. We absolutely love it.
Operation Christmas Child (AKA OCC) is a branch of Samaritan’s Purse. Participants pack a shoebox (or shoebox-sized plastic box) with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and more to be given to a child in need (usually a child in an area suffering extreme poverty, natural disaster or war). These boxes are handed out all over the world. Every year they are collected the week before Thanksgiving at multiple collection sites all over the country (in the U.S.; they are also collected in other countries around the world).
If you miss collection week you can pack a box online any time of year. For $25 you choose the age and gender you would like to pack for and select from certain choices of items to go in your box. Volunteers then pack and ship the box for you.
One thing I learned pretty quickly is that I can maximize my efforts and my dollars by planning early and purchasing shoebox items throughout the year. Since collection week happens in November, I start my planning for the following year in December.
I set a goal for how many boxes I want to pack and at least a general idea of how many for each age and gender. Then I figure out how much I can budget each month for packing boxes and to save to pay shipping fees. I generally plan to spend $10-15 per box. So, if I want to pack 12 boxes for the year I set aside about $20 a month; $7 for shipping and the rest for purchasing items.
Once my plans are in place I start watching for good deals for shoebox items whenever I’m at the store. For example, I know school supplies go on sale in July and August so that is when I buy those.
As you start planning your box packing for the year look at the box packing instructions on the OCC website. You will find basic packing instructions, suggested items by age and gender, and items not to pack (please pay close attention to the items that aren’t allowed in the boxes, also note that candy and toothpaste are no longer allowed as of 2017). Read over this information so that you have a general idea of what items to be looking for, then when you see a good price on something you can grab one (or enough for some or all of your planned boxes).
I don’t pack a complete box each month. Instead, I pick up enough of whatever I find on sale for all of my boxes or all of the boxes that I plan to do for the age/gender that the item is most appropriate for.
After Christmas sales are a GREAT opportunity to get some awesome shoebox items at discount prices and start stocking up!
Check dollar areas, Christmas clearance items, as well as the regular areas for clearance sales.
Every year that I have planned this way I have ended up able to pack more boxes than I originally planned!!
Have you participated in OCC? Feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments!
Here we are in the middle of the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Have you thought about how the dollars you spend impact others? Would you like to spend them in a way that will improve the lives of people struggling just to feed their families? If you have any money left after Black Friday and have more gifts to buy would you consider purchasing Fair Trade items from small business owners in third world countries? In doing so your gift will give twice-to the recipient of your gift as well as the artisan who made it. Plus these handmade items from small businesses around the world make for a much more interesting and unique gift than anything you can find at a chain box store!
Below are just a few shops that I know of to find such a gift. There are, of course, others. If none of these float your boat, also remember to consider small business owners, artists, crafters, and entrepreneurs in your own community. Supporting these folks means they get to provide a better Christmas for their own families as well!
Ekubo is a ministry in Uganda run primarily by a single family. They serve their village in a variety of ways including running a school, clinic, children’s home and church as well as helping with individual needs as they come up. They are focused on helping without hurting and empowering the people they work with to improve their circumstances. You can read more about Christie and George’s story and their ministry on their blog and/or follow their ministry’s Facebook page. One of the ways they support their ministry is through a variety of items handmade by people in their village which they sell through their etsy shop. All proceeds from the shop go back into the ministry and right now you can get 20% off by using the code THANKFUL2016 at checkout!!
I absolutely love their Christmas ornaments and they have recently added a line of stuffed animals that are absolutely adorable! They also have jewelry, bags, home decor and more!
Mercy House started with a maternity home in Kenya. Their goal was to give pregnant girls living in poverty a choice other than a dangerous abortion or abandoning their baby. The maternity home provides a place to live, health care, nutrition, education, spiritual nourishment and more. One of the ways they empower girls to be able to care for themselves and their children is by teaching them a marketable skill and helping them to set up a small business. The products of this business are then sold through the Mercy House Shop and Fair Trade Friday clubs. This program has now expanded to include many artisans in more than 15 countries around the world. All of the artisans are paid more than a living wage for their products allowing them to support themselves and their families.
There are several ways to support this ministry and get amazing products at the same time:
Join one of their clubs: The Original Fair Trade Friday box club sends 3-4 products or if you would like to start smaller you can join the Earring or Bracelet of the month clubs.
Shop the Mercy House Store: You can purchase fair trade jewelry, apparel, Christmas items, greeting cards, bags, home decor, children’s items and more all from small business artisans around the world.
Host a party: You can host a home party or larger Fair Trade event to share Mercy House goods with others, as a thank you, you get to choose a product to keep for yourself.
Noonday is a network marketing company that sells fair trade jewelry and accessories through trunk shows held by local small business owners. All items are made by artisans in struggling countries who are paid a living wage and assisted in developing a sustainable business. Find a local Ambassador, shop their website, or host a party-you will be supporting both a small business owner in another country as well as a small business owner in your own neighborhood!
Saksaum’s mission is to end human trafficking in Cambodia. They do this through healing programs for victims and vocational training and employment. They have a variety of unique fair trade items available in their store and opportunities for advocates to host home parties or run a booth at a local event to share their mission and products with others.
Then Thousand Villages is a large online store with fair trade items from many different countries. They work with artisans and groups of artisans to provide sustainable and safe working conditions with living wages that allow the workers to care for their families. This shop contains more items than I could possibly list and has some great sales going on this weekend!
The Little Market is another larger online fair trade market. They source their products from organizations around the world that empower women to run small businesses and make a living wage from their products creating sustainable income and a better life for their families.
The Apparent Project is working to prevent child relinquishment due to poverty in Haiti. They do this through offering small business opportunities to Haitians that will allow them to support their families and keep them together. Market Haiti is the online shop for goods produced through the Apparent Project as well as other artisans in Haiti. They carry many different items that would make wonderful gifts!
What do you call it? Dressing? Stuffing? You know, that cornbread stuff that is a staple side of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I hear some people actually stuff it into the bird but I’ve never actually seen this done.
I called it dressing for years but people kept thinking I was talking about salad dressing so I’ve switched to calling it stuffing. Either way, the following is the recipe for my family’s version and is absolutely one of my FAVORITE foods. Following the recipe I’ll share a couple variations as well. (And if you are gluten free like us just use a gluten free cornbread recipe or mix-we like this one!)
Sorry I don’t have any pictures, I will take some to add when I make it this year.
Tip: let the cornbread sit out a little bit and dry out a bit, it seems to cook better this way and is definitely easier to crumble.
1 Cup butter
1-2 Cups chopped onion
1-2 pans of crumbled cornbread*
1 tsp poultry seasoning **
1 1/2 tsp salt **
1 1/2 tsp sage **
1 tsp thyme **
1/2 tsp pepper **
1 cup chopped celery (optional)
2-2 1/2 cups chicken broth (I use homemade)
2 well beaten eggs
3 boiled eggs chopped
Crumble cornbread into a bowl. Melt butter in skillet and sauté onion. Pour over the cornbread. Add all seasonings, celery, and boiled eggs and toss well. Pour in enough chicken broth to moisten (mine ends up pretty watery, sort of the consistency of lumpy pancake batter). Add beaten eggs and mix well. Place in large casserole dish and cook at 350 F for 1-1.5 hours.
*The original recipe called for 2 pans or 6-7 cups of cornbread crumbled. I make one package of cornbread mix or one recipe of gluten free cornbread and bake it in my deep dish cast iron skillet and it has always been just the right amount, make 2 pans if you want a larger casserole of stuffing.
**Season to taste, I don’t use poultry seasoning in mine.
Rice Stuffing: substitute cooked rice for the cornbread. Use whatever type of rice you like.
Cornbread and chicken (or turkey) casserole: Add cooked and shredded chicken (or turkey, or duck or whatever type of poultry) to the recipe and cook together. Then you have a great one dish meal!!
This post was shared on The Schoolhouse Review Crew Winter Cooking Inspiration Roundup: