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The Santa Shoebox Project: Celebrating the Giving Spirit of Christmas      
Charitable viewers, Merry Christmas and welcome to Good People, Good Works! This week we’ll travel to South Africa to learn about the Kidz2Kidz Santa Shoebox Project, a program that encourages children to give to other, less privileged youngsters in their country.

The Project was created in 2006 by the South African non-governmental organization Kidz2Kidz which was founded by Ms. Dee Boehner. Let us now hear from Leeza McCloskey, sister of Ms. Boehner and a regional coordinator for the Project.

Please tell us, what is the Santa Shoebox Project about?

The Santa Shoebox Project is about more fortunate people giving Christmas presents to the less fortunate, especially the children. That’s why we call it the Kidz2Kidz Santa Shoebox Project, because that’s what it’s all about. And it’s about a whole lot of donors getting together and making a personalized Christmas gift for orphans, HIV children, abused, abandoned children around South Africa.

The vision of Santa Shoebox Project is to supply and help and assist children out there that are underprivileged, that don’t have what many of our children do have. And our vision is just to put a smile on a child’s face.

The Santa Shoebox Project works with 350 organizations, including foster homes, shelters for children and preschools across South Africa. The Project is also present in the neighboring nations of Botswana and Namibia.

What basically happens is at the beginning of the year, we get a whole lot of facilities on board that take care of children like edu centers, soup kitchens, orphanages, places that take care of HIV children. We get these facilities together; we get the names of each and every single child that is in the facility. And then we put all the children’s names onto our website.

At the beginning of September, we launch our website where all our wonderful donors will select a child’s name off the website, so it’s specific to a child. So it’s the child’s name, the age and the gender that our donors all know. And the donors will then go out and make these beautiful presents up for these kiddies. And we then have drop-off days like we’re having today. At our drop-off days we collect all the boxes for the various facilities, and we place them in cartons and then our logistics company, Laser, comes and collects them.

And then we distribute it to each of the facilities in preparation for the children’s Santa Shoebox celebration day. And that’s where we celebrate the festive season with the children at the end of the year.

How many children have benefited from the Santa Shoebox Project?

When we first started this Project in 2006 we only did 180 boxes. We are up to almost 73,000 boxes this year. So the kids are benefiting in a huge way because there’re so many more children that are coming on board the Project, and so many more children out there that need just to get a little bit of love and a special gift at Christmastime, in the festive season where they’ve never received gifts before. And through this Project we’ve been able to allow so far 73,000 children to receive a Christmas present.

How is a Santa Shoebox prepared for a child?

What we do is on our website, we’re quite specific in what we want the donors to prepare in a shoebox or how they need to prepare it. And first of all they need to get a normal, average-size shoebox, although not everyone does that, they tend to bring bigger boxes, but it’s an average size shoebox.

And in the shoebox we request a toothbrush, toothpaste, a facecloth, soap, an outfit of clothing which is like a dress or otherwise it’s shorts and t-shirt, and an educational item, and also a toy and some sweets. And it’s all obviously got to be age appropriate and we do from birth to 18 years old. And also everything has got to be brand new.

Run by volunteers through a network of families, friends and schools, the hard work of coordinating donations and collecting and distributing the personalized Shoebox gifts all becomes worthwhile when the Santa Shoebox celebration day arrives.

Going to the celebration days, you’ve actually got to be there to see how these children’s faces light up. But you get goose bumps because they just look at the box and they open the lid. They don’t even take out all the goodies. They just stare at it and say, “Wow, is this mine, all of it, is it mine? And it’s all new!” Those are special moments.

We also asked Leeza McCloskey to estimate how many volunteers help run the Project.

There’s quite a few of us. In Johannesburg alone, we have perhaps got about a thousand volunteers, and all the volunteers are full-time workers. And then if you look at it nationally in South Africa, we’ve actually extended out to Namibia, you’re probably looking at about 3,000 volunteers that are assisting on this Project.

Now let’s hear from some of the volunteers about how they got involved in the Santa Shoebox Project!

A couple of months back my wife sent me an email and she said, "Listen I've signed up for this. Would you like to sign up?" And I signed up. And before we knew it we had picked two children for whom we bought presents, and it’s just been an absolutely wonderful experience. It’s just lovely going out and buying the stuff, but even more so now helping today. It's really impactful.

I was sent an email by a colleague two years ago trying to get people to join in on the drive, and I decided that it’s a great idea. Things that we take for granted every single day of our lives, like a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and a facecloth, these kids get once a year. So I just thought it was a great initiative to give them something that will bring light to their lives and also is much needed.

It’s just such a worthy cause; I mean, you think about kids at Christmastime and I remember, Christmastime waking up and looking forward to all the presents. And it would be really bleak if I woke up and there wasn’t a single present for me. So just think about these kids who have nobody looking out for them. So it’s quite cool.

To me Christmas is all about giving and enriching everybody’s lives.

Christmas is about light. It’s the festival of lights for me. And it is about bringing light and love. And it’s about humanity and sharing and collaboration.

It's the fact that at some point in our life we’ve just got to stop and say, “You know what, we’re very blessed, and we need to give back to other people.”

These very thoughtful gifts truly have great meaning to the children who receive them.

I always tell this story because I remember going to a celebration day and this little boy had this shoebox in front of him. And he had all these wonderful goodies inside like sweets and toys, but he took out a facecloth, and he sat there and he wiped his face and he said, “Oh, this is so nice,” which to me was just so special. It’s one story I’ll always relate because it’s a facecloth and kids that are more fortunate don’t understand what it’s like to get a facecloth.

In a December 1996 gathering of our Association members in California, USA, Supreme Master Ching Hai discussed Christmas and the spirit of giving to others.

Or if somebody is really in need of something, and you know he needs it, and you can afford it, then help him anonymously. You know? Something like that. That's why people buy gifts for Christmas, to celebrate the love that Christ has imparted to us, to celebrate the unconditional way he sacrificed for mankind. Yeah? So we can do that in any occasion to remind us of the loving-kindness within ourselves.

Leeza McCloskey and all the other volunteers of the Santa Shoebox Project, we truly appreciate what you are doing to brighten the lives of so many kids! May the Project continue to put smiles on the faces of many more vulnerable children in South Africa and beyond.

Hi, my name is Leeza McCloskey and I am from the JohannesburgKidz2Kids Santa Shoebox Project. And I would like to wish all the viewers a very, very Merry Christmas.

For more information on Kidz2Kidz and the Santa Shoebox Project, please visit the following websites: Kidz2Kids www.Kidz2Kidz.co.za
Santa Shoebox Project www.SantaShoebox.co.za

Happy viewers, we were delighted to have your company today for Good People, Good Works. May all have a very Merry Christmas as we celebrate the kindness and giving spirit of Jesus Christ.

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