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3 December 2007
JSU Professor Begins Accepting Donations
for Annual Christmas Shoebox Program

By Brett Buckner
Star Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.


Jacksonville State University students Karlie Johnson, left, and Loren Girman stack boxes on a collection table in Stone Center. The boxes are a part of a Christmas shoebox campaign that collects gifts to send to needy children in Guatemala. Photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

As the saying goes, big things come in small packages … perhaps even miracles.

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 scratchy beard.

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 families.

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 $1,000.

“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 has contributed.”

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 be shipped.

“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 Guatemala.

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 Guatemala-Alabama Partners.

“The most important thing is that the packages get to those who need them,” Lauderbaugh says.

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 Dec. 14.

• 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

About Brett Buckner

Brett Buckner is a features and entertainment writer for The Anniston Star.

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