As the saying goes, big things come in small packages … perhaps even
Such is the inspiration behind the annual Christmas Shoebox Program, which
aims to deliver any number of “goodies” to needy, impoverished children living
in Guatemala, says George Lauderbaugh, a professor of history at Jacksonville
State University, who is coordinating the local arm of the project.
“This is an opportunity to change people’s lives,” he says. “It’s what
Christmas is all about.”
According to the CIA Factbook, more than 56 percent of those in Guatemala are
living below the poverty line. For those who have so little, pencils and paper,
a toothbrush and toothpaste or a small toy, are luxuries that, even when
delivered by strangers, can make all the difference in the world.
But there’s more to playing Santa Claus than dressing up in red suit and
To the children and families who benefit from the Christmas Shoebox Program,
it’s about knowing that someone cares … someone they will likely never see or
get to thank personally.
“The real benefit is being able to help these kids who really need it,”
Lauderbaugh says, “because otherwise they may get nothing. And everybody
deserves to get something for Christmas.”
Lauderbaugh first learned about the Christmas Shoebox Program because of his
affiliation with the Alabama-Guatemala Partners, a group dedicated to improving
the life of people living in the Western hemisphere. It was there he heard about
Homer Wilson, a retired NASA engineer, who personally drove the 2,000-plus miles
from his home in Huntsville to deliver the boxes into the arms of needy
In 2003, while serving as advisor to JSU’s history honor society, Phi Alpha
Theta, Lauderbaugh decided to adopt the Christmas Shoebox Program as the
society’s service project. It was soon joined by the JSU History Club.
In its first year, JSU collected 45 boxes and raised an additional $200 from
book sales. Last year, the project took in 325 boxes and raised more than
“It has been most rewarding for me to see the response grow among JSU
students,” Lauderbaugh says. “The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity made this their
service project for their pledge class. The Students Today Alumni Tomorrow Club
As president of Phi Alpha Theta, Loren Girman is working hard to get the word
out about the Christmas Shoebox Program.
“It’s important during the Christmas season to think of others, especially
kids,” she says. “Because they have so little and we all have so much, it really
helps put things in perspective.”
But the project has inspired community involvement as well. Sarah Petty of
Wedowee has been collecting boxes since January and just dropped off 49 ready to
“It gives me something meaningful to do with my time,” she says.
This is the third year Petty has been involved with Christmas Shoebox. The
first year she made a delivery to Lauderbaugh’s office less than a week before
having open-heart surgery, filling each box with a toothbrush and toothpaste,
soap and a wash rag, a comb, a little toy and peppermint candy.
For most people the best part about Christmas is watching the reaction from
the children. In delivering these gifts, some of that joy is lost – but Petty
knows just how excited the children will be. Her brother lived in Mexico for
years and often played Santa Claus to the neighborhood children.
“He talked about how those kids would take anything and run off so happy and
thankful,” she says. “I like knowing that I’m their Christmas. Around here, we
all have so much. It should be shared with those who have next to nothing.”
And while the project itself is growing in strength locally, there have been
some necessary changes in terms of delivery. Because of his age, the now
80-year-old Wilson is simply no longer able to make the grueling drive to
In other words, rather than Santa Claus driving a truck, his gifts will be
arriving via container ship sent out from the docks of Miami. The packages are
then distributed by churches and civic organizations in Guatemala, including
“The most important thing is that the packages get to those who need them,”
Directions for donations
• Decide the gender and age of the child you would like to support. Generally
the groups are categorized in age groups of 5-9, 10-13 and 14-16.
• Mark the box with the age and gender of the child it is designated for.
• The following items are recommended for the boxes: Toys: Small cars, balls,
dolls, jacks, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, small Etch-a-Sketch,
Slinky, etc. School supplies: pens, pencils and sharpeners, stamps, ink pad
sets, solar calculators, colored pencils, chalk, crayons, coloring books,
writing pads, etc. Hygiene products: Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, comb,
washcloth, etc. Other: sunglasses, ball caps, socks, underwear, costume jewelry,
hair clips, small picture books.
• The boxes may be gift wrapped, but the top must be wrapped separately so
the box can be inspected by Guatemalan customs officials.
• Boxes can be delivered to the History and Foreign Language Department in
the Stone Center at Jacksonville State University and will be collected through
• Monetary contributions to this program are welcome. Checks need to be made
out to “Friends of the Children.”
For additional information, contact George Lauderbaugh at 782-8044 or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Brett Buckner
Brett Buckner is a features and entertainment
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