Sharing a gift of love with women in shelters – in a shoebox

Local entrepreneur launches the Peterborough Shoebox Project to distribute little luxuries to women in need

Donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)
Donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)

UPDATE (DECEMBER 20, 2015) — The inaugural year of Peterborough’s Shoebox Project, coordinated by Vanessa Dinesen, was a great success. Dinesen posted the following status on Facebook:

My heart is full!

With the help of many people, we collected enough donations so that EVERY woman at the local shelters this Christmas will receive a box full of lovely things!

With the cash I received, I purchased gift cards to Subway and Tim Hortons, packs of gum, hot chocolate, candy canes, chocolate bars and made goody bags for each woman and paired that with a word search/crossword book …

This, my friends, is the true spirit of Christmas!

Thank you to everyone that contributed in any way.

Dinesen also posted a few photos of the donations, all ready to be distributed to women in shelters.

 Donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)

Donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)
With donated cash, Vanessa Dinesen made additional goody bags (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)
With donated cash, Vanessa Dinesen made additional goody bags (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)
More gift donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)
More gift donations to the Peterborough Shoebox Project (photo: Vanessa Dinesen)

OCTOBER 23, 2015 — You never know what impact an otherwise innocent event will have in the life of a child.

When Vanessa Dinesen was seven or eight, her mother took her to the Brock Mission where a family friend worked. It was a community open house, and Vanessa Dinesen remembers having her “eyes opened” to the plight of the homeless.

“All the residents had was a bed and a few things. I remember that being really eye-opening,” she says now. She began selling Avon products at age 16, and would donate leftover products to local women’s shelters.

Now the mother of five is 31, and she is the new co-ordinator of The Peterborough Shoebox Project, an organization that aims to enhance the lives of women in times of need.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve just felt a need to give back to the women’s shelters,” she says. “I’ve never had to use the services, but I feel for those who do.”

Each shoebox is filled with items valued at $50 that a woman would enjoy but would not splurge on for herself in difficult times
Each shoebox is filled with items valued at $50 that a woman would enjoy but would not splurge on for herself in difficult times
The Shoebox Project is a national campaign with chapters in 34 Canadian communities. It was started four years ago by four women who were looking for a hands-on way to give back to their communities.

They asked friends to fill a shoebox with $50 worth of “little luxuries” for women, to decorate the box, and to drop it off. The women then delivered it to other women in need.

Vanessa Dinesen is the co-ordinator of the Peterborough Shoebox Project
Vanessa Dinesen is the co-ordinator of the Peterborough Shoebox Project
The first year, the Shoebox Project delivered 156 shoeboxes to four shelters in one community.

Last year, it delivered gifts to 17,000 women at 270 shelters and outreach programs in 72 communities!

While it began as a holiday effort, it has grown beyond the confines of December to other holidays and events.

Each local Shoebox Project is unique, because the campaign allows each co-ordinator to design her own effort. Dinesen has chosen to support YWCA’s Crossroads Shelter and Cameron House in her first year as the Peterborough co-ordinator.

She is also adding a campaign for Mother’s Day.

“Mother’s Day is one of those other holidays where if you’re by yourself, I can imagine how lonely that would feel,” Dinesen says.

There’s no money in this campaign for Dinesen. She says she does it purely because she feels there’s a need — and she wants to give back to her community.

The Peterborough Shoebox Project's Christmas drive is on now, with shoeboxes due by Saturday, December 12th, 2015. Drop-off locations in Peterborough are Nelms in Lansdowne Place (645 Lansdowne St.), MG&J Insurance (261 George St. N.), Play Cafe (809 Chemong Rd.), and Trent/Fleming School of Nursing Life and Health Sciences Building (1600 W. Bank Dr.)
The Peterborough Shoebox Project’s Christmas drive is on now, with shoeboxes due by Saturday, December 12th, 2015. Drop-off locations in Peterborough are Nelms in Lansdowne Place (645 Lansdowne St.), MG&J Insurance (261 George St. N.), Play Cafe (809 Chemong Rd.), and Trent/Fleming School of Nursing Life and Health Sciences Building (1600 W. Bank Dr.)
The Shoebox Project is entirely volunteer-run, and local co-ordinators are encouraged to avoid asking for monetary donations to help with things like advertising. Instead, Dinesen is using her own entrepreneurial skills which she has honed through a business degree at Trent University, and years of running her own home-based business consultancy.

That means you’ll find this year’s “ShoeboxPtbo” campaign on social media, complete with gimmicks to help drive donations.

For example, one week Dinesen asked the online community to donate something warm like a toque or mitts. She’s also encouraging women to host Shoebox “parties” to collect items. She’s hosting one of her own — a public event on Thursday, November 12th at the Play Café in Peterborough’s Brookdale Plaza.

“I just want to give these women some hope for the future — that this isn’t forever; it’s just a moment in time. They need to know someone is thinking of them,” Dinesen says, adding that she’d like to see her campaign grow to include shelters in Lindsay, as well as other holidays.

“Ideally, I’d like to see boxes available when a woman arrives at the shelter, and maybe on their birthday.”

For more information on The Peterborough Shoebox Project, follow the links below.



The Shoebox Project for Shelters

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Jeanne Pengelly
Jeanne Pengelly is a television and radio news journalist with a Master's Degree in Journalism. Even before she got her first typewriter at age 12, she had decided she would be a writer. Highlights of her career include founding the McMaster University creative writing journal, living in a remote northern community on James Bay where she edited a newspaper and trained young television journalists, and being a non-fiction nominee for the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association. Jeanne's many interests include creative writing, photography, music, teaching, needlecrafts, fitness, and golf. You can follow Jeanne on Twitter @JeannePengelly.

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