Women living in shelters and transition houses across Northern Nova Scotia will have something special to unwrap this Christmas.
Students at Bible Hill Junior High School joined a movement brought to Colchester County by Miriah Kearney, founder of My Home Apparel. It was Kearney who decided to host an event on November 15 at Clay Café in support of the Shoebox Project for Shelters.
Tasha Crowe, administrative assistant at the junior high, saw a Facebook post about the event and immediately reached out to see if there was a potential fit.
“We wanted to do something as a school so I reached out to Miriah and told her we would be interested in signing on with the project if she was willing to guide us,” said Crowe. “I had never heard of the Shoebox Project but was definitely interested after reading the post. However, I knew there was no way we could pull anything together for the Clay Café event so I asked her if we could extend the deadline.”
Kearney, who was already overwhelmed by the support received in advance of the November 15 event, says hearing from the school was the icing on the cake.
“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I feel it’s even more important in a lot of ways for children to do this instead of adults because they’re the next generation. If we can show kids the importance of empathy and compassion now, it has a much more powerful impact than on an adult. After hearing from Tasha, I really thought this is something that should happen in every school.”
With a plan in place, Crowe spoke with David Hazelton, the school’s principal who immediately gave the initiative the green light.
At that point, the We Act club was brought in to help carry out the project. The group, in order to be included in provincial We Day activities, has to do one or two volunteer fundraising initiatives in a school year. Club members Abigail Thiesen, Marth Yiridoe and Clea MacIsaac took a leadership role in the project, working alongside Crowe as much as they could.
“Last year, we had the chance to participate in Samaritan’s Purse,” said Thiesen. “Our school is always looking at ways to give back and get involved. When Tasha brought the Shoebox Project idea to us, I think we all thought it was a great idea.”
The group almost immediately set a goal of two shoe boxes per classroom. With 13 Grade 8 and Grade 9 classes, they felt it was an obtainable goal. But they weren’t done there.
After the conversation between Kearney and Crowe, they decided to go over and the guidelines of the Shoebox Project to help the men in the community as well.
“We looked at filling another void which is the homeless shelter and the fact the Truro Homeless Outreach Society doesn’t receive anything for the men, which makes up 90 per cent of the population at the shelter. So I asked Tasha if they would be open to not only filling the shoe boxes but filling backpacks for men as well.”
It was a challenge the staff and students accepted right away. In addition to two boxes for every classroom, they set their sights on creating 13 backpacks for the shelter.
Part of the role for Thiesen, Yiridoe and MacIsaac was to speak in each classroom in an effort to get their fellow students excited for the task at hand. In a matter of days, it worked.
“A few days after our visit with the different classes, the items started coming in and pretty soon, it was a lot of stuff and it didn’t stop,” said MacIsaac. “I think the students really got behind the project. It was an easy way to get involved without having to worry about the organization part of it. They just had to bring in some items that could go in the shoe boxes or back packs.”
In the end, the school brought in enough items to complete 39 boxes and 14 backpacks. It was a total that even managed to surprise Yiridoe.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” she said. “I hoped we could meet our goals and I believed we could but we needed the school to get behind it. When we exceeded the goal, I was pretty pleased. We only have two grades in this school so you never know how things could turn out. I’m glad to see how everyone came together to make this a success.”
Kearney was also amazed by the effort put in by the staff and students.
“I was really blown away at what they accomplished. The boxes were filled beautifully and you could see all the care and attention that went into them,” she said.
In total, 175 shoe boxes were produced between the event at Clay Café and the school. It’s an effort that won’t only be felt in Colchester County.
Kearney says there were enough boxes left over to cover off Antigonish and Cape Breton.
“Locally, boxes were sent to Third Place Transition House, Central Nova Women’s Resource Centre, the homeless shelter and Healing House in Millbrook,” said Kearney. “Healing House actually handles a large chunk of the province when it comes to First Nations’ women and children who are in need. We’ve now been able to cover additional shelters in Antigonish and Cape Breton meaning this effort has effectively covered Northern Nova Scotia.”
The news the shoe boxes would reach far beyond Colchester County’s borders was exciting for Crowe.
“I’m happy. I just love the response this received,” she said. “I have a happy heart seeing what the students have done and just how far of a reach it will have. The teachers did a great job driving the message home and the kids responded. I hope they all understand the difference these boxes will make.”