Shoeboxes of Kindness
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Students and staff in the school district spend time volunteering and participating in community service projects all throughout the year. During the holiday season, many of them find ways to bring joy and comfort to those in need. For the past few years, the RHS National Honor Society has coordinated the Shoebox Collection. Mrs. Debbie Delia, an Advisor of the RHS National Honor Society, told TIR, “I enjoy getting my students involved in giving back to the community while they learn to appreciate what they have.” This is Rutherford spoke with Mrs. Kelly Lancaster, the other Advisor to the National Honor Society.
TIR: Tell us more about how the Shoebox Collection project idea was discovered.
Kelly Lancaster: A few years ago, I was asked if my daughter’s Girl Scout troop would be able to collect stuffed shoeboxes for K - 8 students at a school in Paterson. Last year, students in the RHS Finding Happiness Through Mindfulness elective were discussing the benefits for all involved when helping other people and participating in community service projects. The topic of collecting stuffed shoeboxes for students at the Paterson school came up, and the RHS students ran with it. They quickly emailed Mr. Morano and asked if RHS could collect shoeboxes for middle school students in Newark. Mr. Morano immediately supported it and helped us throughout the process. The RHS National Honor Society members joined the project and helped generate tremendous enthusiasm.
TIR: Who participates in this project?
KL: All are more than welcome to participate. It began as a high school event, and as Rutherford is known for doing, enthusiasm spread and it quickly became a district-wide and community-centered event. Each RHS National Honor Society student, under the guidance of Debbie Delia and Kelly Lancaster, contributed a box for this collection. Other club members, faculty and staff members, Girl Scout and Boy Scout members, and family, friends, and community members also actively participate.
RHS student, Toni DeSalvo, told TIR, "Overall, taking part in the shoebox collection made me feel inspired. When I was shopping, I felt as though I was a part of something bigger than myself. This inspired me because now, especially during the holiday season, I want to give more than I want to receive."
TIR: How many boxes were collected?
KL: There are about 280-320 shoeboxes with each collection.
TIR: Where do all the shoeboxes go?
KL: RHS students decided that middle school students, grades 6 - 8, should receive the shoeboxes since our students felt the students in grades 6 - 8 do not always receive as much attention as younger children. An email was then sent out to numerous schools in Newark asking if any would be interested in receiving stuffed shoeboxes for their students. Multiple schools gratefully responded. Members of the RHS NHS will be delivering the shoeboxes to the middle school students at Lafayette Street Elementary School, Avon Avenue Elementary School, and Abington Avenue Elementary School later in December.
"I believe that this Box of Kindness will bring the child a sense of hope. They will be able to see that someone in the world cares for their happiness, and in the long run, I believe that will make them a better person," Toni DeSalvo explained.
TIR: Can you describe what can be found inside the shoeboxes?
KL: We tell those interested in participating to start with basic life necessities, such as personal care items (deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hair accessories, lip balms), any winter gear (gloves, hats, scarves, socks), school supplies, books, journals, sports cards, a deck of cards or card games, or magazines.
Another student at RHS, Paige Holman, also enjoyed participating in the project, "While shopping for this collection, I really took the time to appreciate all that I am fortunate enough to have and to feel grateful for everything that I have been granted. I remember feeling giddy while picking out the items for the boxes, just thinking about how excited the kids would be when they opened their gifts. This collection reinforced my love for volunteering and being an active member of the community and I look forward to participating in more events like this in the future."
TIR: Why is this an important community service project for RHS students and members of the community to participate in during the holidays?
KL: This experience demonstrates the good we can all do to help others. It is difficult to articulate the benefits, but no one has ever regretted participating. We often collect more boxes than we anticipated because many volunteers share that the joy of buying items prompted them to buy more than can fit in one box.
Kyra Cioffi, a student at RHS, explained, "The Box of Kindness initiative makes me feel fulfilled because getting the chance to interact with the community makes me feel like I'm making a difference, even in unconventional circumstances such as these. While shopping for this collection, I've learned that the little things matter! Even if it seems like a small gift, an act of kindness of any size within this project means the world to these kids. Box of Kindness hopefully will make the children within the Rutherford community feel appreciated, and remind them that paying it forward can be just as fulfilling as receiving a gift."
Social-Emotional Learning is one of our district goals, and this experience has clearly been an asset to our district. While academic growth is essential to success, social-emotional health is equally important. This experience offers all participants an opportunity to have a positive effect on a child and themselves.
"I can say from experience that even the smallest acts of kindness can greatly impact a person and I hope that by receiving a “box of kindness,” these kids will be inspired to extend that kindness into their everyday lives," Paige Holman told TIR.
Shoeboxes will be collected until Wednesday, December 17th. Anyone who wishes to donate a shoebox can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.