EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 30, 2012

Women collect holiday hope in shoeboxes

Women aim to fill tractor-trailer with gifts for hurricane victims

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — ATKINSON — It could be a math homework question: How many shoeboxes would it take to fill a 53-foot tractor trailer?

John Cote Sr., president of Louis P. Cote Inc. of Goffstown, owns such a trailer.

His answer to the question? Laughter.

But he did estimate the 3,816-cubic-foot trailer would hold “a lot” of shoeboxes.

Atkinson resident Pam Burke and Plaistow resident Linda Heminway are doing their best to collect as many boxes as possible to fill that truck before it heads to New Jersey in a couple of weeks.

These are not your average shoeboxes. Rather than footwear, the boxes will be filled with small items meaningful to the recipient. It’s an effort to deliver something personal — and hopeful — to people whose lives were swept away in late October.

The two women, dubbed Santa Pam and Super Elf Linda, launched Shoeboxes from Santa in the hopes of spreading some holiday cheer to New Jersey residents still devastated by the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Burke, who can trace many important life events to the Jersey shore, said it all started after she made a cash donation to help storm victims soon after Sandy hit.

But she wanted to do more. She tried.

She said she was surprised more groups weren’t collecting donations of food, clothing and other necessities for storm victims. Rather than wait for someone else, Burke took action.

“What started out as just me being very agitated has just snowballed into something wonderful,” she said this week.

And snowball it has.

Burke, who grew up in the Philadelphia area and summered on the Jersey shore, decided to start by finding a truck.

“I called a lumberyard and said, ‘Do you have a truck?’” she recalled. “He said, ‘Who are you?’”

After she told him about her mission, he said, “Sweetie, I can’t afford that.”

Undaunted, Burke spent an estimated 13 hours calling more trucking companies. Finally, she connected with the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association and they sent out a broadcast to all New hampshire-based trucking companies.

“We answered,” Cote said yesterday. “We wanted to do a little something and this looked like the perfect opportunity. We’ve had a pretty good year and this is a way for us to give back a little back.”

Cote’s company, in the business of moving machinery and electronics, is donating the tractor-trailer, driver and fuel for the round trip to Long Beach island.

The truck will be parked at the Atkinson Community Center the weekend before the trip, so people can drop off donations. Bright and early Dec. 17, the truck will head south.

“I hope it’s successful,” Cote said. “I hope we can bring a large amount of stuff down; whatever we can bring down will be a help.”

Burke and Heminway hope to collect enough shoeboxes to provide 800 holiday presents. The donations will be distributed through Operation Hometown Hope of New Jersey.

A store in New Jersey has offered space so residents will be able to “shop” for the shoebox of their choice.

The women also are collecting new toys, gift cards to Toys”R”Us, board games, hats, scarves, mittens and gloves, nonperishable food items, almost anything.

“We’re open to anything,” Burke said. “If people want to bring other donations, I have a truck going down.”

But the shoeboxes are at the heart of the project.

“We’re going to focus on things for inside,” Burke said.

She was brainstorming donation ideas with one of her four adult daughters and remembered doing something similar for a senior residence when her children were small.

People are encouraged to personalize the boxes with notes and decorations, but asked not to seal them.

Someone donated a “tea time” box, with mugs, biscotti, cocoa mix and tea, dish towels and napkins.

Heminway, a quilter and seamstress, made up starter boxes for storm victims with similar hobbies.

“I made up four shoeboxes and I had a ball,” she said. “I really a good time shopping; it brought me some Christmas spirit. Put it in the perspective of yourself or your family members. What would they miss?”

The project already has forged one new friendship. Burke and Heminway had never met before this.

When Burke approached the minister of the nearby Atkinson Congregation Church about the project, he said, “You need to talk to Linda.”

She did and a partnership was born.

“Linda is more than an elf,” Burke said. “She’s like Mrs. Claus.”

The boxes are for storm victims of all ages.

“We adults need an uplifting thing, too, when we’re going through such trauma,” Heminway said. “It’s a real neat thing if we, as a community, can get together.”

Want to help? here's what's needed What's needed? Shoeboxes filled with small, themed items, decorated, but not sealed; gift cards, new toys, warm coats, gloves, hat. scarves, mittens, nonperishable food. Where? Atkinson Congregational Church, 101 Main St., Atkinson; Northstar Music, 37 Plaistow Road, No. 12, Plaistow; Lobster Q, 416 Emerson Ave., Hampstead; BeanTowne Coffeehouse and Cafe, 201 Route 111, Hampstead. On Dec. 15, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Dec. 16, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., donations may be delivered to the Atkinson Community Center, 4 Main St., Atkinson. The truck leaves Dec. 17. More information: Email Burkeysusc@yahoo.com or ibquiltn@comcast.net. Check Facebook for updates and more information, facebook.com/ShoeBoxesFromSanta.