I need to get a bumper sticker that says, “This car stops at all Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees.” I know that may sound strange to some people, but the ladies who work with me in the shoebox ministry for Operation Christmas Child understand perfectly. Our small church, Rosemont Baptist, exceeded our previous records for shoeboxes this year. Our last count was 855 and still climbing. (Not that I’m bragging or anything. God multiplied the loaves and the fishes.) Shoebox dedication was today and we will have the final count by tomorrow when we ship the boxes out.

For those who are unfamiliar with the shoebox ministry, this is an outreach of Samaritan’s Purse to provide a simple gift to impoverished children around the world who may never have received a gift in their life. It is one way to share the love of Jesus with children who need a little ray of hope. The boxes are packed with school supplies, personal hygiene items, toys, clothes, etc. Our church has a shoebox room where we sort, organize, and store items all year round to pack in the boxes.

In order to make this ministry work, we constantly shop for bargains. I am used to getting strange looks when I go through the checkout line with two carts filled with stuffed animals or T-shirts. Many people ask what I’m buying all these items for, and it is a good way to tell them about our ministry. I have even had a few people give me money for the ministry after hearing about what we are doing. I try to be considerate of shoppers who have only a few items by letting them go ahead of me before I tie up the checkout line for twenty minutes with my bulging carts, but inevitably, once the cashier starts ringing me up, some poor soul with only one item gets stuck in line behind me. And inevitably, there are no other cashiers available. I usually apologize and hope the person is more patient than I usually am when I get behind someone with a full load. Sometimes, I will even offer to ring up their item with my order so they don’t have to wait. I also try to be considerate by telling the cashier how many of each items I have so they can ring them up in quantity, but again, invariably, the cashier doesn’t know how to ring up quantity or else doesn’t trust me to be honest about things I’m buying for church, and scans each and every item. A lot of the cashiers recognize me now. I don’t know whether they secretly cringe when they see me come in, or are glad I’m spending so much money.

There is nothing that thrills me more than getting a great bargain on something. Timing is often everything, but a lot of times the same item is two different prices at the same chain store, which can be frustrating when I find a good buy at the Dollar General in Niceville, only to discover the same item is not on sale in Shalimar. But I scored a huge victory last week after being told flip-flops were not going on sale this year, and there appeared to be a scarcity of flip-flops even at full price after hitting all the Dollar Generals in Niceville, Shalimar, and Fort Walton. I stumbled across my coveted items at the Dollar General on the Mary Esther Cutoff. Not only were there scads of flip-flops on the top shelves (which required a nice clerk to get for me), but the other nice clerk gave them to me at half price, even though she had to manually over-ride the price on every single pair of flip-flops. Getting that bargain was a high point in my week, which speaks volumes of how little it takes to make me happy.

Thankfully, Hubby is very supportive of my obsessive bargain hunting for shoeboxes—just as long as he doesn’t have to go with me. There have been a few times when he was stuck with me, such as the time we were coming back from an errand in Gulf Breeze and I insisted on stopping at every Dollar General between there and home. But beach balls were on sale! I couldn’t pass up that opportunity, even if he did have to make left turns across traffic on 98 to get to each store.

By the time we came to the last Dollar General, he actually had the audacity to say, “I suppose you want to stop at this store, too.” I gave him “the look,” and he dutifully pulled over. Most of the time, he stays in the car. But there have been occasions when he has had to accompany me into the store. Then he gets embarrassed when I keep piling on more merchandise. He will repeatedly say, “Okay, isn’t that enough?” while I am down on my hands and knees scraping the last of the items out from where they have fallen under the shelves.

Yesterday, he wanted to stop by Dollar General to pick up some windshield wiper fluid on our way to walk Turkey Creek.

“Really?” I asked. “You know what will happen if I get in there and they have a sale on something.”

“Maybe I should go in alone,” he replied.

Not on your life! Good thing, too, because I scored more beach balls at 90% off!

My friend tells of the time when we were going to a writer’s conference and I had to run in to a Dollar General for “just a minute” to pick up a sun hat. She waited in the car for a half-hour because I got side-tracked with a bargain.

So, fair warning. If you are driving behind me and I suddenly see a Dollar General, you’d better not be tailgating. I will slam on my brakes, and you and your car might be going to Dollar General with me.