OCC Processing Center 2015

When Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week ends, those who are in charge of a Collection Center take a moment to catch their breath before heading down to the Processing Center to volunteer. The Processing Center we visited was open from November 24th to December 18th and processed over 700,000 shoeboxes!

This year we were able to volunteer three times at the Processing Center with shift lengths of 4 to 7 hours.

First, Let's Tour the Processing Center...

A must-see at the Processing Center is the Gear Store which offers lots of great OCC items like shirts, ornaments, Tervis cups and more.

Nearby, at the Year-Round Volunteer booth, we were given a button to wear that said “I’m a Year-Round Volunteer”! Next, we stopped by the Prayer Wall, which was a new addition to the Processing Center this year. It was covered with photos of children who have received a shoebox! Simply choose a photo, write a prayer for that child on the back and re-pin it on the wall. This is the photo we chose…

Last year, the Processing Center had a giant USA map for volunteers to stick a pin into it, marking their hometown. It was cool to see all of the places around the country and across the globe that people had come from to volunteer. There wasn’t a map this year but we hope it returns in 2016!

Sadly, many wet shoeboxes arrived at the Processing Center due to leaky semi trailers. Each had to be opened up and laid out to dry for days in front of giant fans.

Now, Let's Process Some Shoeboxes!

We handed the greeter a FAST PASS for our group and each of us received name tags. Make sure to get a FAST PASS for your group too – it makes sign-in so much faster and easier!

Next, we received orientation on how to process a shoebox. There was a short video and examples of a line table, Follow Your Box labels and of shoeboxes in cartons.

Exiting from orientation put us right in line next to a beautiful Christmas tree where we waited for openings on a line. All of the cartons you see behind the waiting line are full of shoeboxes waiting to be processed!

There were 18 lines with room for up to 13 volunteers on each – we were placed on Line 1. Cartons of shoeboxes arrived on rollers where Pre-Inspectors removed the shipping money, placed it into a lockbox and ensured there was a marked Boy/Girl label. Once done, they placed the shoeboxes on the white shelf for the Inspectors who removed any inappropriate items listed on the sign. They placed the shoeboxes back on the shelf for the Tapers who taped each closed. Sometimes that is a challenge! Next, the shoeboxes get handed to the Scanner if there was a Follow Your Box label who scanned it and passed it to the Cartoning volunteers. They fit as many shoeboxes as possible into the cartons, each marked with an age and gender. If an Inspector removed inappropriate items or if a shoebox was poorly filled, they were able to add a few of the donated filler items like these shoes. There were several large bins of items – one even had thousands of pencils in it!

You never know what you’ll find when processing – one day, we found a pinecone in a shoebox! The coolest item we saw was wind chimes which hopefully will be included in MadeCreatively’s shoeboxes for 2016. Here is a photo of two shoeboxes that someone found coming down their line. One is wearing a tutu and the other is fashioned to look like a teddybear wearing overalls! Both boxes were designed to be easily opened – Wow!

Soon, it was lunch time and we took a break to visit the vendors who arrived with tasty meals for volunteers. Chick-fil-A offered a $5 chicken sandwich with chips and Firehouse Subs had a small variety of $5 sandwiches and chips.

Although we love Chick-fil-A, we all chose a ham sandwich from Firehouse Subs and sat at the picnic tables, watching the activity of the lines while eating.

Energized by the food, we were ready to process more shoeboxes! Returning to Line 1, we were surprised to have the same couple who we met last year at the Processing Center, placed on the same line! We all laughed at the odds of being on the same line on the same day, during the same shift – one year later!

After finishing your volunteer shift, you could choose a free t-shirt and commemorative ornament before leaving.

Shoebox totals were shown on a white board which we made sure to check before leaving. On the 8th, 22,000 shoeboxes were processed for Ecuador during our volunteering shift. During our shift, 20,000 shoeboxes were processed. We don’t know how many were processed during our third volunteering shift, but the boxes went to India.

We want to give a big shout-out to Susan who was our coach for Line 1 – You are AMAZING and we hope to be on your line next year!
Also a shout-out to Mark who was the Processing Center Chaplain in 2013 – Processing shoeboxes with you was super fun!
Lastly, a shout-out to Matt, the daytime Processing Center manager – You did a great job!

Each year, the Processing Center needs more and more volunteers to process the ever-growing amount of shoeboxes that arrive. Volunteer often at the Processing Center to help get these shoeboxes to the children who desperately need them!

A Few Processing Center Volunteer Tips:

Heed the rules. They are there for a reason – to keep everyone safe on the line and to ensure each shoebox is processed correctly so it can safely arrive in the hands of the child its meant for.
Ask. When in doubt, ask a coach! Rules for inappropriate items change frequently so before you throw it out, ask a coach.
Volunteer. The Processing Center needs YOU! 700,000 shoeboxes can’t process themselves so sign up your friends and family to volunteer several times!
Enjoy. Guess what? You’re surrounded by others who love OCC just as much as you do – maybe more! Enjoy the time with fellow shoebox fanatics.
Flexibility. At some point during your shift, you’ll probably be asked to fill a role on the line that isn’t you’re favorite. Be flexible – coaches and other volunteers appreciate it!
Understand. You are the volunteer – not in charge of the line. Nobody enjoys working with a someone who is bossy, rude or thinks they know everything. We were surprised to find quite a few volunteers who took the fun out of processing by being snobby.
Never underestimate the role you have on the line. Each one is super important! Removing the money for shipping, checking for inappropriate items yet keeping the box’s integrity in tact, taping the box closed so nothing falls out, scanning the Follow Your Box label accurately so donors can learn where their box went and finally, cartoning shoeboxes to fit as many as possible into those cartons!

Oh yeah and one more tip… H-A-V-E  F-U-N!