Linda Ferguson (left) of Sooke organizes a local chapter of The Shoebox Project

West Shore women supporting those in need

Turn an old shoebox into a beacon of inspiration for those that may need it

There’s still a little time to put a smile on a stranger’s face this holiday season. To remind them that they are not alone and they mean something to someone.

That’s the idea behind The Shoebox Project, a national campaign that distributes shoeboxes filled with little gifts, warm clothes and words of inspiration to women in shelters and outreach programs.

One Sooke woman has jumped behind the initiative, organizing box drop-off locations across the West Shore and elsewhere in Greater Victoria. Linda Ferguson, in her third year organizing the local campaign, will distribute them to at least nine different shelters across the south Island, based on their need.

“It’s all done by word of mouth,” she said. “It’s grown from 59 the first year to 624 last year.”

Last December, The Shoebox Project delivered gifts to 17,000 women using 270 shelters and outreach programs in 72 communities in Canada and the U.S.

Ferguson said the shoebox is a reminder for women that “somebody out there, a complete stranger, loves them.” A number of recipients keep the boxes as a memento, she added. “You just don’t realize the impact you’ll have.”

But it’s not just the recipients who are benefiting. Ferguson said a number of families get together and make building a box a tradition, and groups or businesses host parties where attendees bring items to build and decorate boxes.

“It starts that whole conversation,” she said, adding it is a great way to help children learn about different shelter programs. “They really are moved by the experience when they know where it’s going.”

Deb Alcadinho, founder and director of the Westshore Women’s Business Network, said when she found out one of their members was organizing the local campaign, it seemed like a perfect fit for the group.

“Each year we align ourselves with charities … with the mandate in mind that we support our community,” she said. “It’s all about giving back at a time of year when it’s important.”

Celebrating its fifth year this month, the Network has grown from a handful of women to over 1,000 members. “What struck a chord was we provided a place in the industry for women to network,” Alcadinho said. The purpose of the group, besides networking and helping women grow their businesses, is to support them in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

“We’ve all been in some sort of transition in our lives … We’re always transitioning from one aspect to another,” Alcadinho said. She noted, however, that the women receiving the shoeboxes are probably going through more significant life changes than most.

The deadline for shoeboxes to be dropped off is Dec. 10, which is also the WWBN’s annual Christmas party. While the group is encouraging its members to bring shoeboxes to the event, Alcadinho is encouraging members of the public to come join them.

“We have amazing perks and benefits to being a member, but I always want to encourage women to come as a guest.”

There are some specific regulations for the shoeboxes: they must have their lid wrapped separately so they can be inspected upon arrival at the different shelters.

Ferguson said this was just a precaution to make sure the women receiving them are protected.

For a full list of the 26 drop-off locations, as well as gift suggestions, go to shoeboxproject.com or visit the Vancouver Island group on Facebook.

For more information on the Westshore Women’s Business Network, visit wwbnvictoria.com.

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

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