If your team is working with a lot of children over several days and doing multiple activities, you have probably just realized you have a lot of materials to transport to your mission trip location. If you are flying, this probably means dividing supplies between multiple suitcases and team members to avoid extra baggage charges. Even if you are able to keep everything together, it will save you a ton of time in the field if everything is extremely well organized before you leave.
Well organized materials have several benefits. First, you don’t have to spend a lot of time while you are on the trip organizing materials. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but trust me after hours on your feet in sometimes tough conditions, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to find the glue sticks you need for the next day and packed somewhere.
Organization also allows you to double check and make absolutely sure you have enough materials for the number of children you were told you were going to have plus extra for those who just show up unexpectedly. During a mission trip, you may not have the access or the time and money to purchase last minute materials because you run short. It’s amazing how many times when dealing with high numbers of supplies, someone miscounted and shorted your supplies a pack of something essential.
Finally, if you are like our team and don’t have a lot of storage space onsite, it makes it easy to tell everyone to bring everything to the bus marked “Monday” or whatever you need that day. It also meant my roommate and I didn’t have to have the supplies for over 500 children and six activities each plus some additional items all in our tiny room. When something didn’t appear, it was really easy for me to “nag” everyone to go back and look for the missing “Monday Group 2 Prayer Journal” bag.
So how did I organize our materials? Plastic zip bags (2.5 and 1 gallon bags work the best although small items can sometimes fit in a quart bag) and sharpies are your friend! It also helps if you have already decided how you will divide the children into groups and approximately how many will be in each group. (I packed an “extra supplies” bag for each center in case a group had more than the expected number.)
On each bag I wrote the name of the day, the name of the center and the group number/letter/color. Then I placed all of the supplies that group would need for that center in that bag, including any parenting materials we were sending home related to that center. If a center needed markers or glue, I placed those in a bag marked with the center name (you can add for all days and groups if needed).
So for example for our prayer journal center, over the course of four days we had twelve different groups of children. This means I had twelve separate bags for the prayer journal center – one for each group – and an additional bag of markers that was shared by everyone. When setting up our site for the day, we had to pull the bags each center needed for the day and put them in their area. It made set up extremely easy.
You may be worried about the excessive use of plastic bags. Trust me. It’s worth it for several reasons. First, of course, the organizational benefits mentioned earlier. It also kept the materials from being damaged flowing around freely in a suitcase. Had customs stopped us, everything was in clear bags and marked for use. When clearly marked like that, their concerns over possible re-sale issues are quelled. Finally, in our mission area as in most, funds are tight. They were extremely excited to be gifted plastic zip bags they could re-purpose. (The writing on them didn’t bother them at all!)
Finally, if you are sending home a lot of items with the children you are serving, make sure they all get home. We used a plastic zip bag or you could use lunch sacks. Have each child write his/her name on a bag and put everything in it as they go through the day. Then instead of multiple pieces of paper to keep up with, they only have one bag. If they get separated from the bag, the owner is easier to find.
Trust me. It is well worth your time and effort to organize those materials really well before you leave home. Your team will thank you and you might actually get a break during your down times on the trip!