Humanists UK cautions parents against Operation Christmas Child

16 November, 2023

Parents and schools are being urged to investigate a seemingly innocent Christmas gift-giving initiative operating in schools across the UK. Operation Christmas Child, which encourages parents and children to donate gifts for ‘shoeboxes’ sent to underprivileged children in developing countries, is in fact closely associated with Samaritan’s Purse, an organisation linked to Franklin Graham, a controversial American Christian evangelist known for his homophobic views. Humanists UK advocates for schools to disclose the complete information to parents before promoting donations and suggests exploring alternative, more inclusive options.

The annual Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal is widely promoted by schools as a positive way to support those in need during the festive season. The initiative dispatches shoeboxes filled with toys, books, and gifts to vulnerable children in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Despite its seemingly altruistic goals, Samaritan’s Purse incorporates religious literature into the gift boxes after they leave schools. This approach exploits the well-meaning generosity of British parents by using their innocent gifts as tools to convert poor and vulnerable children to Franklin Graham’s brand of evangelical Christianity.

Reverend William Franklin Graham III, the head of Samaritan’s Purse, is the son of the well-known American evangelist Billy Graham. Concerns have been raised about his history of making homophobic remarks, and saying that Muslims ‘should be barred from immigrating to America’. In 2020, Graham participated in the ‘March for Life,’ advocating for a complete ban on abortion.

Last year, parents at an evangelical faith school in England alerted the school about supporting Operation Christmas Child. After investigating the organisation, the school concluded that the organisation’s values were ‘not in line with a school where pupils can be themselves and are respected and celebrated for who they are.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann commented:

‘At this generous and festive time of year, children love to feel that they might be helping others less fortunate than themselves. However, I’m sure many parents would, once they know the full facts behind this campaign, prefer that their support was directed elsewhere. There are plenty of suitable alternatives, and being more humanist than humbug, I would simply encourage parents to liaise with their children’s school to find other ways to bring Christmas joy to disadvantaged children – minus the veiled evangelism.’

While charities like Link to Hope (itself a Christian charity) conduct similar shoebox appeals without ulterior motives, Humanists UK also suggests considering alternatives such as Oxfam and Children in Need

Humanists UK has created a template letter for parents to send to schools, outlining their concerns and urging them to reconsider their support for the Operation Christmas Child scheme. Parents are encouraged to email with any questions, or updates on correspondence with schools on this issue. 


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigning on Operation Christmas Child and alternative appeals.

Read our article about how a school dropped Operation Christmas Child after parents complained about homophobia.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.