GOODWILL: The Shoebox Project

Women love to feel pampered. Be it the latest shade in lipstick, a pretty fleece scarf or opulent bath lotion, it's the little things that make us feel good about ourselves. 

But there are women ““ countless women ““ that for reasons beyond their control have no access to life's simple pleasures. They are our neighbours, our friends, our family, and they are homeless, living in a myriad of controlled shelters. 

Founded in 2011 in Toronto, The Shoebox Project for Shelters was created to help these women in need feel special and connected. Distributing gifts year-round in the form of shoeboxes, each box is filled with items that any woman is likely to enjoy. A Canadian national charity, The Shoebox Project currently operates drives in more than 35 communities across North America.

Kate Wong, program coordinator, joined The Shoebox Project, Toronto, in 2013. Beginning as a volunteer, she explains, “Our charity is 100 per cent dependent on volunteers. We believe in empowering the volunteers to head up their own local chapters and become Local Coordinators, where they put in an incredible amount of time and effort. An example is Veronica Marsden and Jacqueline Findlay, coordinators of the Mississauga Chapter, whom have been essential to the incredible growth and participation of the Peel Region community for the past several years.”

Four-and-a-half years ago while jogging on a treadmill, Veronica Marsden heard Caroline Mulroney being interviewed on Canada AM speaking about The Shoebox Project. “At the time I was looking for community involvement and this project spoke to me.” Marsden picked up the phone and called fellow Mississauga resident and friend of 35 years, Jacqueline Findlay. After a little brainstorming and many phone calls, The Mississauga Shoebox Chapter was born. 

“Jacqueline and I had conversations that continued to mushroom,” says Marsden. “We fast discovered the key to volunteer involvement was through word of mouth…for example we told our book club and they got involved and they told their friends, and so on.”

The Shoebox Project, in its founding year, delivered 400 shoeboxes to residents of four Toronto women's shelters. Due to the ongoing escalation of dedicated volunteers and the support of some loyal sponsors, the initiative grew very quickly. By 2015, their network delivered 25,000 gifts to women in 35 communities. This year they are hoping for 30,000 shoeboxes.

The Mississauga Shoebox Chapter's target for 2016 is a whopping 1,500 alone, but it is never enough.

The prevalence of homelessness across Canada is on the rise. Reports on poverty and domestic abuse are ever growing. Says Marsden, “We are supporting women who could be living in our own backyards and we would have never known.”

The holidays can be lonely for many, but for women in shelters, December 25th can be the saddest day of their year. Some may not be able to leave the shelter and visit family as they risk being found by their abusers who suspect that they may go home for the day. Being the only national registered charity that supports women in shelters during the holiday season, Christmas giving is the mandate for The Shoebox Project.

The Shoebox Project, Mississauga chapter is reaching out to the community now more than ever.  There is nothing comparable to the Christmas season where increased feelings of isolation and loneliness are faced by women in shelters.

The shoebox itself is a labour of love. Brightly wrapped, the content value is averaged at $50 and consists of such items as bath luxuries, makeup, accessories, warm socks and gift cards.  Friends and family can gather and have fun hosting a shoebox party. Ask your local church or community centre to become involved. 

“A key message that we hope to share with the women we support is that there is an entire community that loves and cares for these women. We hope that our shoeboxes are a powerful reminder that she has not been forgotten and remains a valued and respected member of her community.”

In the words of Kate Wong, “Making a shoebox is a very hands on way to give back. It allows for the opportunity to help meet the needs of the communities around us on a very tangible and personal level.”

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