A special feeling of joy comes from receiving an unexpected gift, and that’s the goal of the Shoebox Project, which kicks into high gear every holiday season.
“We give gift-filled shoeboxes and handwritten messages of support to women in the Ottawa area who are affected by or at risk of homelessness,” says Randi Prieur, who coordinates the program in the National Capital Region. “The shoeboxes are filled with essential items and little luxuries, but in some ways, what we’re really delivering is hope.”
The program is non-denominational, works only with registered charities, and is open to all those who identify as women. Each shoebox is valued at approximately $50 and packed with items like shampoo, conditioner, face cream, body wash, a small gift card, and something cozy, like a pair of cozy socks or soft mittens to keep warm on a cold winter night.
But it’s the personal messages that can have the biggest impact, notes Randi. “Many of the women carry those letters around so that when they’re having a difficult day, they can pull them out and read them for strength,” she explains. “Just like the gifts, those letters let them know that they’re seen and they’re important members of this community.”
While many boxes are prepared by Shoebox volunteers, the majority are put together by members of the public, who can drop off their shoebox donations at a variety of supportive local businesses throughout the city. After that, the boxes are distributed to participating shelters and community agencies.
While preparing a shoebox may seem like a small act of kindness, Randi knows that it can have a major impact. “A long time ago, I would have been considered a vulnerable woman at risk of homelessness, someone who had to choose between paying rent and eating,” she reveals. “Receiving the shoebox would have made such a difference because I would never have been able to afford any of this myself — I needed my money just to survive — so the gift and the note would have made me feel valuable and worthy.”
That experience left Randi deeply committed to giving back. “I know what it’s like to depend on the community in tough times,” she concludes. And through the Shoebox Project, she’s helping deliver the gift of dignity and happiness to vulnerable women, one little box at a time.
For more information on the Shoebox Project and how you can donate, visit shoeboxproject.com