...because I realized that being away in Mexico with no free internet will really hamper my posting. So anyway I'll try to keep you all entertained until we leave, and then you'll just have to ponder what I will write next.
So, I'll just answer Tree's comments about popular items in the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. I really don't think any item was unpopular, although of course, kids aren't nearly as excited to see socks as they are to see toys. But that doesn't mean socks aren't useful! We found that kids really liked to get toys that had some sort of movement to them - like spinning tops where you pull out a plastic zipper to get them to spin, whirly-bird flyers, yo-yo's, etc. Candy was also a big hit, as you might expect. Older kids seemed to like things that were useful ... sunglasses, hats, small makeup kits for girls (although I am not wild about this...), tools for boys, stickers, hair accessories, notebooks/stationery, pens, etc. I don't think there's much you could put in a box that wouldn't be enjoyed!
Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan's Purse always faces a measure of controversy. I don't pretend to understand it all, but I suppose the short version is that they are often criticized for telling kids about the gospel and about God... many suggest that the shoeboxes come with strings attached because the children are "forced" to hear a religious message in order to get their gift. I see it differently.
OCC works through local partners. Each receiving country has a leadership team, and that leadership team works incredibly hard to mobilize local churches. Often, the pastors of those churches go door-to-door to invite children to come to the church for a rally and for a gift. Children and families are not deceived into attending the event ... they are told that it is a church-organized event. No one is forced to accept Christ. The local pastor and church usually lead worship songs, then someone will tell the Bible story. Kids are asked if they would like to accept Christ as Saviour, and if so, they are invited up for prayer. Then the boxes get handed out. A separate person will have a booklet on Jesus' gift to us available, but kids do not have to take one if they don't want to. They get a box regardless.
Anyway, I think the value of the shoebox goes beyond the gifts inside it. Samaritan's Purse often is able to get into countries with limited access through OCC, and then they are able to do some amazing work. The BioSands water filter is one excellent example. It's a slow sand filtration system which removes harmful bacteria and other water contaminants - one filter can meet an entire family's needs for their lifetime. Pretty amazing stuff. Only $100 supplies a family with the filter and health education, ensuring clean water to cook with, bathe with, etc.
The bottom line, for me, is that SP/OCC seeks to meet the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of people in developing nations. In so doing, they acknowledge that their main goal is to spread the news of Christ.... but their work isn't conditional upon people accepting Christ.
Hope that helps :)