Boxes filled with hope
United Way hosts third annual Shoebox Project

When women and children leave an abusive or dangerous domestic situation or find themselves on the streets with few resources on hand, the last thing they're thinking about is having access to toiletries.

Fortunately, the Metro Atlanta United Way has developed a method for providing these necessary items through shelters and other care-giving agencies. The third annual Metro Atlanta Women's Legacy of United Way Shoebox Project, of which Rockdale County is a part, distributes toiletries to local organizations to have on hand when women and children require their services.

The Shoebox Project is scheduled for Feb. 14, and the local United Way chapter is presently seeking individuals and groups to fill shoeboxes for the big day of distribution.

"Our goal for this year is 700 boxes," said Claire Cline, area director of Rockdale's United Way

program. "Last year, our goal was 500 boxes, and we reached that with no problem; in fact, we wound up with even more boxes. In our first year, our goal was 300 boxes, and we went over that as well."

Cline said shoeboxes should include items like travel-sized shampoo, soap, lotion, baby wipes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, mouthwash and deodorant. She added that items to avoid include candy, sewing kits and medicines (like aspirin and cough syrup). While decorated boxes are

encouraged, donors are asked to wrap the box and the box top individually.

According to www.unitedwayatlanta.org, last year's event collected more than 10,000 shoeboxes for distribution to homeless women and children in 48 shelters across the agency's 13-county region.

While many groups are making the Shoebox Project a community service initiative, Cline said individuals who have a surplus of travel-size items can bring them to the United Way's office at 1174 Scott Street and "we'll get them distributed."

"People give generously in Rockdale County," said Cline, noting that Girl Scout troops, churches and businesses like AT&T and Acuity Brands Lighting are heavily involved in the Shoebox Project. "It's an easy pull-together project for individuals, families, groups or businesses to do for the betterment of their community. These are items that the public often takes for granted but are badly needed by many people."

Five local agencies are the beneficiaries of the boxes. They include the Project ReNeWal (domestic violence center); Rockdale Emergency Relief (emergency assistance to individuals and families); Refuge Pregnancy Center; Rockdale County Public Schools; and Open Door (helping incarcerated women transition back into society).

Sarah Miller, children's advocate for Project ReNeWal, said that the shoeboxes they receive are used as intake resources for incoming clients, many of whom arrive at the 20-bed center with little more than the clothes on their back.

"This is such an important project," Miller said. "Our clients often come here with nothing. We're a nonprofit that relies heavily on donations, and when we don't have to buy these types of items for our clients, we can use that money for something else, like helping a woman and her children relocate or find a place to live."

Miller also said that Project Renewal often receives more shoeboxes than they require on the day of delivery, and those extra boxes are saved for later use.

"When we get a surplus of shoeboxes, we'll save them for the next folks that come in," she said.

Cline said that if there's a vast surplus of shoeboxes in Rockdale County, they'll be donated to the United Way's metro-wide effort.

"Many hands working together can meet this need," said Cline, adding that the local United Way has a similar project - School Tools for Cool Kids - in the late summer to help equip needy students with needed school items like pencils, paper and book bags. "We're not taking from anyone in a large way."

Shoebox donations will be accepted by the local United Way office until Feb. 14. For more information on Metro Atlanta Women's Legacy of United Way Shoebox Project, call Rockdale County's United Way office at 770-922-7227.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. If you have a story idea, e-mail Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.