Palm Aire’s Linda Midyett turned on a Christmas movie the day after Thanksgiving and brought out her wrapping paper.
Julie Sawyer, also of Palm Aire, and her niece, Sarasota’s Lindsey Blevins, joined Midyett to wrap shoeboxes that contained personal care items, games and more.
For the past five years, Midyett has packaged and wrapped at least 15 shoeboxes to donate to Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee’s annual Shoebox Collection.
The nonprofit hopes to collect 1,000 shoeboxes for volunteers and staff to deliver to seniors in need throughout the holidays.
For some seniors, the shoebox might be the only gift they receive.
“It’s become a tradition,” said Midyett, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch. “It’s something that marks the holidays. We all were fortunate to know our grandparents when they were seniors, and they had family (living near them). It’s difficult to think about elderly people who are maybe alone for the holidays. This is something that makes you feel good.”
Midyett’s annual contribution is added to the other boxes the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch collects and donates each year.
Sybil Porter, the president of the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch, said the club has donated between 60 and 70 boxes each year for at least the past 10 years.
“We’re very supportive of Meals on Wheels,” Porter said. “They apply for a grant from us every year, and we do food drives for them. This is our way of giving back to them a little bit.”
Members of the Rotary started putting their shoeboxes together in October.
“It’s a good holiday tradition and you feel like you’re doing something for people who might not get a whole lot at Christmas,” Porter said. “It’s a feel-good kind of thing we do, and everybody loves doing it.”
Porter remembered her first year of participating in the shoebox drive seven years ago. She delivered the Rotary’s boxes and she was amazed to see the number of shoeboxes being collected.
“It was neat to see all the shoeboxes lined up and all the people eager to get their boxes,” Porter said. “It was very heartwarming. It was a moment of, ‘Golly, people really care.’ You go through life and you think sometimes people aren’t caring about other people. Then you see everybody come together on this one Shoebox Drive. It’s nice to see it in action.”
Although the list of items that are acceptable is limited, Midyett said she has fun finding puzzles or games to put in the box. She likes to put in a planner, a puzzle book and fuzzy socks.
Midyett hopes to donate 15 boxes as she did last year, but next year, her goal is to donate 20 boxes.
“All of us who are capable of doing this sort of thing from a resources standpoint, I think we should try to find something to help with that. It means something to us,” she said.
The shoeboxes can come with challenges, particularly when it comes to wrapping.
“What limits us is the availability of shoeboxes with detached lids,” she said. “A lot of the shoeboxes now have the lid that’s one piece with the box. Those are impossible to wrap and make look nice. We start collecting our shoeboxes early in the year, and we store them until this time of year.”
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.