The power of one person to make a difference in the lives of many can never be overstated. When mind and heart connect, the possibilities for positive change are endless. One woman, Eva Whitmore, decided she would use her exceptional organizational talents to spread some happiness to women living in shelters.
Whitmore says it was quite serendipitous how she first learned about The Shoebox Project, a national non-profit group that collects and distributes gifts in the form of shoeboxes to women living in shelters across Canada. She says she noticed a posting on Facebook one evening by an acquaintance of a friend boasting they had collected 53 shoeboxes for the project in Toronto.
"Right away, when I looked up more about The Shoebox Project I knew it suited me; it was something I wanted to get involved in," says Whitmore. She realized there was no Shoebox Project in Winnipeg, so she contacted the organization and volunteered to be the Winnipeg co-ordinator.
The Shoebox Project was founded in 2011 by four sisters-in-law in Toronto: Caroline Mulroney Lapham, Jessica Mulroney, Vanessa Mulroney and Katy Mulroney. The concept is simple -- fill a shoebox with items valued at $50 a woman would enjoy but would not splurge on for herself in difficult times.
"The philosophy, the thinking behind the project really resonates with me, helping women fleeing from abuse," says Whitmore. "A lot of times, Christmas is seen as a time for children, but some of these women will tell you that they haven't had a birthday gift or a Christmas gift in years. These shoeboxes help brighten the holiday season during difficult times and let these women know that they are special and not forgotten."
Last year, The Shoebox Project delivered gifts to 2,700 women in shelters and outreach programs across the country.
For Whitmore, volunteering has always played a significant role in her life. The mother of two grown children has lived in many places across Canada over the years -- Ontario, Newfoundland and Manitoba -- with her husband, Mark, the dean of science at the University of Manitoba, but she has always made time to volunteer. "I grew up volunteering. My mother is 82 years old and still volunteers," she says with a laugh. "It's always been important to me to give back to the community."
Whitmore, who works two part-time jobs -- one in association management and one in formatting a technical journal to photo-ready copy -- says it was important to her to find a volunteer endeavour in which she could use her organizational skills and wasn't too fundraising heavy.
In the three weeks since she began co-ordinating Winnipeg's Shoebox Project, she has organized two drop-off locations for shoebox gifts. From there, Whitmore will deliver the shoeboxes to residents of Alpha House, Ikwe Widdjiitiwin and Osborne House.
When asked what her goal is for this year, she beams. "In my wildest dreams? Well, we need 60 to 70 shoeboxes for the residents at the three shelters, but I would love to get 100 so we could give to others."
Suggestions on what to put in shoeboxes that might brighten a woman's day include: body or hand lotion; slippers and socks; makeup (such as mascara, lipstick and nail polish); toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss; chocolate, cookies and candies; mitts, hat and scarves; perfume; brushes and combs; bus tickets; phone cards and gift certificates to places such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart and Tim Hortons.
"People are also encouraged to decorate the box and maybe place a special inspirational note or poem inside," smiles Whitmore. She says putting together a shoebox can be a fun holiday event that can be done as a group, encouraging workplaces and friends to come together to make one up. "It's a small gesture of kindness that can make women going through difficult times feel so special, so important, so valued," says Whitmore.
To learn more about how to get involved and how to go about donating a shoebox, go to http://www.shoeboxproject.com or email email@example.com. Shoeboxes can be dropped off between Nov. 22 and Dec. 10 at either 11 Areisa Bay or 700-177 Lombard Ave.
If you know a special volunteer, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at: firstname.lastname@example.org.