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LARSON: Try some holiday creative thinking inside the box

For years now, one of my favorite holiday activities has been filling a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child. And every year I want to make my OCC shoebox bigger and better. Every year I make multiple trips to the dollar store looking for one more sheet of stickers to stuff into one of my son's size 13 shoe boxes.

A few weeks ago Kay Brett, a representative from OCC was visiting my church for our 2009 shoe box kickoff. My friend Patti and I poured out to her how much we loved this project and started topping each other's stories about how creative we were in cramming our boxes to the brim.

"It's almost like an addiction," Patti said, and we both laughed at ourselves, realizing that for us, OCC is more like OCD in the way we so obsessively and compulsively get into it.

Brett said she loves to see such enthusiasm, but what Patti and I and many others do is not really the best way to go about it.

The shoeboxes, which OCC ships to children in places such as refugee camps, hospitals and orphanages in all over the world, are packed in cartons designed to hold 14 standard-sized shoe boxes. The people at the distribution centers anticipate 14 boxes, but when three boot boxes are taking up the space of nine shoeboxes, some kids get turned away empty handed. It's hardly what any of us want to see happen, and let's face it. Some of these kids are lucky to even get food throughout the year.

Brett went on to share some stories from OCC distributors. She said the first thing the kids look for is a toothbrush.

"They dig through the box until they find it," Brett said. "In some cases, a whole family shares one toothbrush, so this is a real luxury."

Dollar store toothbrushes usually come in four-packs, which is an even bigger treat, because it gives the child the opportunity to give a gift to someone special.

Wrapping the box is optional, but in many cases the pretty wrapping paper is right up there with the toothbrush. Kids are amazed at the pretty patterns and use the paper for decorations or paper airplanes. Some even turn it over and use it for writing paper. Actually, any pretty paper scraps tucked inside the box provide a welcome way for kids to access their own gift of imagination.

Many people put big bows on their shoeboxes which must be removed for packing purposes. "But," Brett said, "the bows are tucked inside the box, providing one more gift for the lucky child who receives it."

So far, through the generosity of churches, garden clubs, Scouts, retirement communities, civic groups and individuals, OCC has distributed more than eight million shoeboxes worldwide. But they can always use more. If you'd like to do some creative thinking inside the box and bring Christmas cheer to a child, visit www.samaritans

purse.org or e-mail occsoutheast@samaritan.org

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.