United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta wrapped up another successful Shoebox Project campaign last month, the agency said in a statement.
More than 17,200 decorated shoeboxes -- a 3,500-unit increase over last year and the most ever collected during any one campaign -- filled with toiletry items were collected. Approximately 67 agencies throughout the region serving homeless women and children will distribute the boxes. Altogether, more than 66,350 shoeboxes have been distributed since the annual campaign began in 2006, United Way said.
"This is simply amazing," said Milton J. Little, Jr., president of United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. "The large amount of shoeboxes collected shows just how many businesses and individuals, schools, churches, families and countless others have embraced this initiative over the years. We may take items like lotion, soap and toothbrushes for granted, but for some, a toothbrush is a priceless gift. Many people will be thankful to receive these creative boxes."
The Shoebox Project kicked off on Feb. 14, and major supporters included FedEx, WSB-TV and Delta Air Lines, which provided a pair of round-trip tickets for the most creative shoebox.
"There is a tremendous need for compassionate endeavors like the Shoebox Project for women and children escaping abuse," said Shoebox volunteer, Matti Hardgrave, who said her daughter was a victim of abuse. "Thank God for this."
Sharon Abdur-Rahman had no idea when she shipped her shoebox donations from Royal Palm Beach, Fla., that she would win the decorating contest and Delta tickets. She created a beach scene, complete with trees, hammocks, real sand and a simulated ocean.
"I thought it was a wonderful cause and jumped right in," said Abdur-Rahman. "I thought it would be refreshing for a woman in need to look at a beach and get away, mentally."
Organizers at United Way credit the rise in shoebox donations in 2011 to increased community support throughout area counties and organizations such as Bank of America, Newell Rubbermaid, Northside Hospital, Kroger and the United Way Young Professional Leaders, a group of Atlanta professional donors age 40 and under. Many hosted Shoebox Project parties with friends, colleagues and family and used the effort as a creative team-builder and networking opportunity.
"When the Shoebox Project is announced, communities instantly spring into action," said Little. "As soon as you say Shoebox Project, so many people are asking what can they do to help because they know what meaningful impact this makes. It's inspiring."
Dozens of shoeboxes collected in Butts County were distributed to the Christian Emergency Relief Foundation and the Butts County Counseling Center.
Georgia ranks high among the nation's percentage of homeless children, United Way said. In metro Atlanta, homeless women and children represent the largest population of homeless residents. Conservative estimates show that this group accounts for nearly one-third of the homeless population, United Way said.