What will 2,000 shoeboxes filled with personal care and emergency preparedness items mean to area homeless, elderly and veterans? Twenty-four local nonprofits, including three in Montgomery County, are about to find out as they distribute these very special gifts of necessity and hope.
The shoeboxes were collected, packed with essential items, and decorated as part of the United Way of the National Capital Area’s (United Way NCA) first-ever Shoebox Project.
From April through early June, individuals and organizations throughout the greater Washington region donated and decorated shoeboxes filled with travel-size toiletries, adhesive bandages, sun protectors, warm socks, rain ponchos, small flashlights with extra batteries, prepaid phone cards and more. More than 2,000 shoeboxes—twice the goal set by United Way NCA for the new initiative—were collected.
“In the spring and summer months, nonprofits find that their pantries are at their lowest levels for many items, including basic need and emergency preparedness items,” said United Way NCA President and CEO Bill Hanbury. “Connecting people in need with local resources and assistance—when they need them—is a critical part of United Way NCA’s mission.”
“There are so many people in need within Montgomery County,” said Nina Golding, director of development at Interfaith Works, which works to meet the needs of the county’s poor and homeless. “Beyond the sheer fact that these items are necessities, what makes this project so beautiful is that it expresses that someone cares, that there is thought and consideration going in to putting items into a personal box.”
Community Ministries of Rockville will use the boxes for their Elderly Ministries Program. “The people we serve in the program are low-income, frail and generally living alone,” said Lynn Arndt, Community Ministries’ director of development and volunteer services. “Being given a shoebox will mean so much to them. It’s more than just a box. It is a gift, something tangible that provides a connection for the elderly, letting them know that there are people in the community who care about them and they are not alone.”
“Many people living on the street are long-term mentally ill or have substance abuse issues and lack any social support. They are living in parking garages and sleeping at metro stations,” said John Mendez, outreach specialist at Bethesda Cares. “These individuals are extremely medically vulnerable and at risk for death on the street.” The Shoebox Project, said Mendez, offers his organization an opportunity to partner with United Way to get supplies to folks who are medically vulnerable and homeless.
“This is about survival,” said Mendez. “It’s a personal care item, and they need it to get through their day. Having these boxes will make their day a little bit easier, a little bit more comfortable. It’s hope for a new day.”
United Way plans to do the Shoebox Project again next spring. “The Shoebox Project offers a creative and compassionate way for caring communities to get vital items into the hands of individuals and families who are homeless or are struggling to simply pay the rent and electric bill each month,” said United Way NCA’s Hanbury. “Filled with items most of us take for granted, each shoebox is a personalized act of kindness and comfort that lets a vulnerable person in your neighborhood know they are not invisible or alone.”
Focusing on the critical areas of education, financial stability and health, United Way of the National Capital Area and its nonprofit members not only provide immediate relief to social problems affecting the community, but also work to alleviate the underlying causes of these issues. Serving the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties for more than 35 years, United Way of the National Capital Area works to inspire acts of caring, deliver hope and improve lives.
For more information about United Way of the National Capital Area, visit www.unitedwaynca.org.