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Shoeboxes to help homeless mothers and children

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Got an extra shoebox lying around the house? If so, think twice before throwing it away, because it just might bring joy and relief to a homeless woman or child in the area.

The United Way Women's Legacy Shoebox Project 2009 is an annual service that aids homeless women and children in metro Atlanta by providing them with sealed, travel-size toiletry items in decorated shoeboxes, while enlisting the public's help in assembling the packages.

"We're trying to raise awareness of the homeless women and children in the area," said Sheri Willis, associate director of resource development for United Way in Clayton, Henry and Butts counties. "Most people don't think of women and children being homeless, and they need the items that we ask to be donated."

The most popular items needed for the project are travel-size shampoos, soaps, hand disinfectants, feminine products, and hand towels.

Items that are not eligible for donation are used or opened items, sewing kits, medicines and candies.

According to a United Way official, the project was created in 2005 by United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. Last year, more than 9,100 shoeboxes were collected and distributed to 61 homeless shelters across the 13-county region, in which the organization serves.

Drop-off sites in the Southern Crescent, include: In Butts County, the Jackson Progress-Argus at 129 South Mulberry St., Jackson; In Clayton County, the WorkTec office at 221 Stockbridge Road, Jonesboro; In Henry County, the United Way office at 107 Westridge Industrial Blvd., McDonough.

Approximately 200 shoeboxes have been collected, so far, at United Way of Henry County, but none had been delivered, as of Wednesday, to the Jackson Progress-Argus or WorkTec.

"Usually, we collect for about a month, and this time, we're collecting for a little over two months," said Willis. "We've extended it to give the community time to get their shoeboxes together -- and what better day than Mother's Day."

Contributors can decorate their boxes, if they desire, by wrapping the lids and boxes separately.

In the past, WorkTec employees have taken matters in their own hands, literally, by applying a little flavor to shoeboxes that were delivered undecorated.

"If someone brought in supplies without a decorated box, we would feel more comfortable looking in it and adding items, and decorate it as well," said Dorothy Cochran, director of WorkTec, and a member of the Clayton County United Way advisory board. "Some of the staff would ask us what we need, and they would go to the dollar store and purchase those items. We just want to make sure the shoeboxes are full."

The project got started this year on Sunday, Feb. 1, and will end Friday, April 10. The boxes will be distributed on Mother's Day, May 10.

After the collection deadline, United Way volunteers will assemble at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers building in downtown Atlanta, and begin inspecting the boxes to make sure they don't contain any unwanted items.

"The volunteers will do inspections in three-hour increments, from 9 a.m., to 4 p.m., and we do this to make sure we don't give away things like razors or opened and used items." said Willis.

For more information about the Shoebox Project, visit www.unitedwayatlanta.org, or call United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta at (404) 614-1000.