Childhood memory inspires student to plan Operation Holiday Shoebox on campus

A few items in a shoebox can make a difference for children in need
Mindy Gruzin York Campus

A shoebox of joy can  make all the  difference in a child's life and Mindy Gruzin, a Penn State York student, knows well because she received a shoebox back when she was 9-years-old and living in a Baltimore orphanage.  Gruzin still has her shoebox and some of its contents.  Gruzin shared her story with friends, and they decided to work with Operation Holiday Shoebox and make it a campus event.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

A shoebox containing a sparkly notebook, butterfly hair clips, gel pens, and a few other items made Christmas special for Mindy Gruzin, then 9-years-old and living in a large orphanage, Villa Maria, in Baltimore, Maryland. The shoebox, delivered by somebody dressed as Santa, was all she received that year, but she really hadn’t expected to receive anything. Gruzin’ s memory of that day, which made her very happy, inspired her to become involved in Operation Holiday Shoebox this year. Operation Holiday Shoebox sends shoeboxes full of joy to needy children in more than 80 countries, including the United States.

A packing party is set for noon Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Precision Custom Components (PCC) Community Room in the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center on campus  To pack a box, participants must sign-up online and can bring a shoebox of their own or fill one that will be at the event. Those who can’t attend the packing party can fill their box and drop it off in the student affairs office by Nov. 21.  

A student majoring in psychology with a minor in biology at Penn State York, Gruzin initially planned to just create a box of her own and send it.  When she mentioned the organization to her friends, and shared her story, they too wanted to help.  A fellow classmate, Juan Sanchez, also a biology major, suggested that the group make it a bigger event and take it campus-wide.

"Your small act of kindness can have a long-lasting impact."

-- Mindy Gruzin, Penn State York student

According to Gruzin, everything just fell into place through a team effort; they applied to Operation Holiday Shoebox and were approved for the collection. The group made posters and distributed information throughout the campus in a short period of time.

What started as Gruzin packing a box of her own, turned into the Biology Club sponsoring the event and seeking funds from the Penn State York Student Activity Fee to mail the shoeboxes. The cost to mail a shoebox is $9 each.  

Operation Shoebox at Penn State York

Students put together shoeboxes for the Operation Holiday Shoebox packing party set for noon Thursday, Nov. 21 at Penn State York. Mindy Gruzin, Baltimore, Maryland; Juan Sanchez, Dominican Republic; William Roe; and Ronit Ormianer, York, Pennsylvania; left to right, are excited to make a difference in the lives of needy children.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

“This does have an impact,” said Gruzin, 32, who still has her shoebox and a few of the items from it, a few butterfly hair clips and the sparkly notebook. “From my experience, kids really do benefit from this; I know I did. Your small act of kindness can have a long-lasting impact.”

Those who sign-up online can choose the gender and age of who will receive it, track their shoebox’s journey, and have the cost of postage covered. Participants are encouraged to place a letter, greeting card or photo, along with their name and address, in the box. Gruzin notes that there’s a good chance the recipient will write back. When she received her box, that information was not included.

Ronit Ormianer, another biology student at Penn State York, had never heard of the shoebox project, but is using it to teach her 5-year-old son, Jacob Hardill, about giving back.

“He will pick toys and play an active role in packing it,” she said.  “I am hoping this will serve as an inspiration to him,” she said.

Although participants can’t choose where their boxes go, Gruzin confirms that the shoeboxes are always sent to the neediest children.