It is the little things that matter, and filling boxes with a lot of them can have a big impact on many lives.



Coloring books, sewing kits, pencils and pens, small toys and even a baby doll are all the right size to fit into the Christmas paper wrapped shoe boxes that take up much of Kay Dunham’s living room in Washington. There are 365 of them — one for each day of the year.


It is the little things that matter, and filling boxes with a lot of them can have a big impact on many lives.

Coloring books, sewing kits, pencils and pens, small toys and even a baby doll are all the right size to fit into the Christmas paper wrapped shoe boxes that take up much of Kay Dunham’s living room in Washington. There are 365 of them — one for each day of the year.

“Every year it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Dunham. “It started with 50 boxes, and in the years after that has been getting more and more.”

Dunham has been wrapping and filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child since 2004. A project of Samaritan’s Purse, whose president is Franklin Graham, OCC delivers these packages to children in impoverished countries all over the world.

“I would love to go and be there when the boxes are given out,” said Dunham. “The kids just look so excited when they open them. But I am not well enough.”

Dunham spends much of her time finding items to fill the boxes. Every day she is on the look-out for sale items that could be useful, and she knows which brands are cheaper than others, Dunham said. Shopping trips to Dollar General and Walmart always turn into a search for a bargain; she even has a routine path through the store.

“Every time we go, we go in and turn right to buy the toothpaste and the tooth brushes, then we get the soap. Then we go back around and get the flashlights and little computers, and then we go to the discount table,” said Dunham. “And this is all while we do our own grocery shopping.”

Dunham also spends a lot of time in the separate bedroom of her house, which is designated as her workspace. Two to three hours a day at least, sometimes more and sometimes all day, she fills the boxes with desired items like school supplies, smaller clothing pieces, such as toddler T-shirts and shorts, and hygiene items.

“Every box gets a wash cloth, a piece of soap and also pencils, erasers and notebooks. Then I add other things to it,” said Dunham.

Boxes, which have been assembled and wrapped with the help of her husband Julius, are labeled and packed separately for boys and girls and divided into age ranges. Pink purses are matched with a girls shirt, and toy cars go into a box with a cap.

Dunham said that each shoe box is filled with many items costing $1, estimating the total cost for each box to be about $10 - $15. Three-hundred-sixty-five boxes are not cheap to fill.

“I save so much money for what we get each month. I save my change and my birthday money, and I keep it in my coin purse. When it is gone, I do not buy anything for a while,” said Dunham. “If I were rich, I would spend a lot more.”

Filling shoe boxes is never far from her mind. On a recent trip down south for the winter, Dunham and her husband stopped at every shoe store along the way looking for boxes. When they returned home, they had 60 wrapped shoe boxes ready to go.

Family and friends try to help out with donations for the cause.

“My daughters help me fill the boxes too,” she said. “They buy items like these 240 boxes of crayons and combs, and neighbors leave boxes on my porch. And I had one person give me money to spend on items to put in the boxes. It was totally out of the blue; I was really surprised.”

The week of Nov. 11 was National Collection Week, and the shoe boxes were dropped off at the Collection Center in East Peoria before being distributed to needy children. Dunham says she does not know how many boxes she will fill in the coming year, even though Samaritan’s Purse has already sent her 200 new ones, waiting to be assembled.

“We will see what happens. It goes to children who do not have anything at all,” said Dunham. “I just think about some little girl when she sees the baby doll. She will just be jumping up and down. She will just be so happy to get that.”