The 27 kids in Sarah Leigh’s Grade 6/7 French immersion class at L’École Phoenix Middle School are learning a thing or two about privilege.
One of Leigh’s teaching goals, she says, is making sure her students know that there are a wide range of lives being led in the world, not only in far-flung places they may rarely – if ever – think about, but also right here in their own town.
That’s why, when the school decided to stop taking part in the local Shoebox Project for Women each December as an entire school, she kept going as a class.
“I think there were just too many initiatives being taken on around Christmas time,” she says, outside her classroom as her students work on various projects on the other side of the door. “I mean, there’s the tree down the hall where you take a tag and buy a gift for a child in need, there are the food hampers for Knights of Columbus that we all help with, and a mittens and hats drive and so many other giving-type things – not to mention that people are needed to organize them all – that it was just too much.”
Even without a school-wide shoebox drive happening, however, she thought it was an important enough project that she could at least still do some shoeboxes with her own classroom. This year was the fifth year they’ve done it as a class and the most boxes they’ve ever filled: 32.
For those who don’t know, the Shoebox Project for Women initiative lets people give the gift of compassion to local women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness by packing a shoebox with warm mittens and socks, a few toiletries like bath soaps and toothpaste, maybe some makeup or nail polish and a note that says they’re important and cared about. While the value of the items in each box is approximately $50, the value of the impact on the person receiving it is priceless, Leigh says.
And the impact on the impressionable young people at the middle school is priceless, as well.
“I just present it to them that they’re very lucky to have homes and families who care about them and not everyone has that,” Leigh says. “They might think something in their life isn’t fair, but while they’re wondering about what gifts they’ll be getting for Christmas, some people in their own community are wondering where they’re going to sleep tonight. We talk about the idea of gratitude and I have them have that discussion with their families, as well.”
If the concept of what they’re doing in gathering the items for the shoeboxes hasn’t hit home by the time they’re all packed, it certainly does when they see them all stacked up, she says.
“They really made the connection, seeing them sitting there, thinking, ‘we’re going to change 32 lives this Christmas,’ and I think that was really a nice thing for them to feel.”
Grade 6 student Nikki MacLeod says she enjoyed it, “because it’s nice to make people feel special.”
Grade 7 students Alia Bodkin and Zuri-Ann Hendrickson agree.
“They don’t have the money to get these kinds of things themselves,” Hendrickson says, “and this will hopefully make them smile.”
“These people don’t get to have what we get on Christmas morning,” Bodkin agrees. “We get lots of presents, and I think they should get some, too.”
And thanks to these kids, 32 more of them will.
You can find more information on The Shoebox Project at www.shoeboxproject.com