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One woman packs almost 1,000 shoeboxes this year, says 'it's my happy place'

Written by Sylvia St. Cyr

A retired Winnipeg nurse, alongside her ‘elves’, have packed and dropped off 904 boxes for Operation Christmas Child this year.

A convoy of vans and trucks, all carrying between 100-200 shoeboxes brought and dropped over 800 off at Grant Memorial Church last week, and she’s packed even more since then.

“I have several people that help me, this is not just my single enterprise. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to collect and pack this number of boxes.”

Packing shoeboxes for children around the world has become a huge passion for Barbara Shumeley. She initially started packing shoeboxes roughly 15 years ago, starting with a few each year.

Then when Shumeley retired, she ramped up the packing to hundreds of boxes a year.

“Like I tell everybody, this is what Christmas means to me. I do them all year and this year is a big push because my husband isn’t well.”

She does most of the packing and shopping, while others drop items off, or knit and make things to go into the boxes.

“One friend makes paper pads. She puts Christmas designs on the front of them and drops off hundreds of those. Another person makes up sewing kits for the older girls.”

Logistically, packing this amount is an average of putting together two to three shoeboxes a day.

“I’m the lucky recipient because then I get to put it all together and see what those boxes look like. I can see and envision those children opening them up and that just makes my heart so full.”

Throughout the year, Shumeley waits for sales and deals each time she goes shopping for useful items.

“When I shop is mostly after Christmas, after Valentines and special holidays when there are more sales on various items that would be for shoeboxes. Also during school specials, those are my big opportunities to buy school supplies.”

Last year, when Shumeley found shoes on sale, she went to each Walmart around the city and purchase 75 pairs of shoes originally priced at $30, which were on sale for $3.

For anyone who is retired and has the time, to save on money, Shumeley encourages them to make some of the items.

“I was helping my friend move out and she had all these beautiful candles. So I made up packages with candles. You can make boxes in a variety of different ways and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”

Shumeley says that each shoebox may have different items, but certain staples are always included.

“So putting shoes, socks, underwear, and a knitted item in the shoebox is essential. School supplies and hygiene items also.”

Shumeley has been helping people for decades as she worked in the medical field before retiring.

“I was a nurse administrator and my research background is in breast cancer. I was the first director, working with a number of other people, to start the two breast centres here in Winnipeg.”

The word retired doesn’t have much meaning for Shumeley as on top of packing hundreds of shoeboxes each year, she has been helping refugee families when they come to Canada.

“One of my newcomer families made beautiful berets with ribbons and sparkles on them, and those are going in the shoeboxes this year.”

While in 2020 Shumeley has packed more boxes than ever before, this year hasn’t been an easy one for her.

“All I need to do is be able to envision children opening these boxes and hearing the love of God, that’s what keeps me going.”

While it’s hard for her to admit, Shumeley says it could be her last year spearheading this project as her house is often covered in all the items that go into hundreds of these shoeboxes.

“Particularly over the last several months, it’s been a really big challenge for me to be able to cope with things at home as well as with my friend in the hospital, and friends going through cancer. This is my happy place and I can do this as my therapy that fills my heart and soul as well.”

Many of Shumeley’s elves want to continue helping pack all these boxes and therefore she is asking if any person wants to take this over, they can contact CHVN at dj@chvnradio.com. The group also needs a storage space for the items and tables for packing to fit in.

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