November 1 kicks off the third annual Norfolk Shoebox Project, an initiative that collects and distributes shoeboxes filled with gifts for women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The Norfolk chapter is part of an international program called the Shoebox Project for Women. Started in Canada in 2011, the 501©3 non-profit organization’s message for women in crisis is “You Are Not Alone.”
Norfolk resident Maura Feeley Birenbaum started the local chapter as a way to give back during the holiday season.
“We are so privileged to live here,” she said. “My goal was to teach my kids to always try to help someone less fortunate no matter how busy you are.”
Participants fill a festively-wrapped shoebox with about $50 worth of unwrapped, small luxury items intended to make women feel special. These gifts may include makeup, skin care products, soaps, chocolate, warm clothing items like scarves or gloves, and gift cards to coffee shops or movies—items unlike the usual donations received by shelters. Volunteers can also include notes or letters.
Birenbaum says the shoebox and its cover must be wrapped separately so the boxes can be checked for prohibited items like razors, candles, or used goods. Pre-decorated boxes, available at retailers around the holidays, are also an option.
Birenbaum hopes to collect 200 shoeboxes this year, and deliver them to Rosie’s Place, a women’s shelter in Boston. The gifts will be distributed during the organization’s annual Christmas party.
Alyssa Schoppee, Development Associate at Rosie’s Place, noted the importance of drives like the Shoebox Project to help make the holidays a bit easier for women in distress.
“Every holiday season brings more women in need, both at Rosie’s Place and in our community,” said Schoppee. “We work to brighten the season by providing gifts for more than eight-hundred guests who ‘shop’ in our Holiday Store. We rely on the generosity of individuals, companies and organizations like the Shoebox Project to create this special opportunity for women who may feel particularly alone during the holiday season.”
Since 2011, the Shoebox Project has distributed more than 180,000 shoeboxes, valued at more than 9 million dollars. There are about 80 volunteer-run chapters across North America.
Birenbaum says organizing and participating in the drive has been personally rewarding.
“Bringing the boxes into Rosie’s Place is always such an uplifting day,” she said. “I’m always overwhelmed by all the people who participate from Norfolk, Wrentham, and Plainville, and from my gym and work, too. I don’t have a lot of time to volunteer but this is something I can do in my limited free time and I know it makes a difference.”
To participate in the Shoebox Project, drop off completed boxes to Norfolk Town Hall, Town Clerk’s Office, 1 Liberty Lane, Norfolk; 270 Main Street, Norfolk (Maura Birenbaum); or 35 Metacomet Street, Wrentham (Sue Danson).