Jessica Mulroney, Melinda Karlsson boost awareness, funds for Shoebox Project for homeless women

Holiday gift drive gets backing from Zibi project co-developer Dream Unlimited

Two well-known women – Jessica Mulroney and Melinda Karlsson – teamed up Tuesday for the launch of a grassroots initiative that brings joy and happiness each holiday season to women who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.

Mulroney is the wife of TV personality Ben Mulroney and daughter-in-law of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Although, these days, she’s more known in the media for being best buds with Prince Harry’s fiancée, Meghan Markle.

She co-founded The Shoebox Project in 2011 with her sisters-in-law: Ontario Progressive Conservative Party candidate Caroline Mulroney Lapham, and Katy and Vanessa Mulroney.

It all began, she said, as their way of helping one local shelter in Toronto. Today, the annual holiday gift drive has distributed more than 100,000 boxes across Canada to more than 300 shelters. 

The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, Jessica Mulroney, along with Melinda Karlsson, were at the Zibi Presentation Centre on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, to launch The Shoebox Project, an annual holiday gift drive that Mulroney began six years ago with her sisters-in-laws. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Mulroney was in town to promote the cause with Karlsson, newlywed wife of Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson.

Some 100 invited guests gathered in the cozy and festive presentation centre for Zibi, the mixed-use development that’s going to transform the vacant and derelict pulp and paper district on Chaudière and Albert Islands into a vibrant, diverse and sustainable waterfront community, both in Ottawa and nearby Gatineau. 

There was a small-scale model on display of what the 37 acres of commercial, residential, retail and green space will look like in another decade or two. 

On hand was Michael Cooper, founder of Dream Unlimited. The Toronto-based real estate development and management company has partnered with Ottawa-based Windmill Development Group on the future development.  The presentation centre is just over the river in Gatineau at 3 Eddy St.

Dream is also the national corporate sponsor of The Shoebox Project.

From Windmill was Jeff Westeinde with his wife, Colleen Westeinde. She was recently honoured at an annual awards dinner hosted by St. Joe’s Women’s Centre, a local organization that provides support and services to homeless women.

The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
Michael Cooper, head of real estate development and management firm Dream, seen in conversation with Jayne Watson, CEO of the National Arts Centre Foundation, at a reception held at the Zibi Presentation Centre on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, to promote The Shoebox Project. Photo by Caroline Phillips
The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
Jeff Westeinde, president of Zibi Canada and a founding partner of Windmill Development Group, with his wife, Colleen Westeinde, at a reception held at the Zibi Presentation Centre on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, to promote The Shoebox Project annual holiday gift drive. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Sighted in the crowd of about 100 invited guests were some of the Ottawa Senators players' wives and girlfriends, out to support the cause, as well as loyal participants of the gift drive and local business owners who've offered up their stores and shops as shoebox drop-off locations.

The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, Ottawa Senators wives and girlfriends Tara Borowiecki (wife of Mark Borowiecki), Monika Caryk (girlfriend of Mike Hoffman), Jamie Thompson (girlfriend of Cody Ceci), Melinda Karlsson (wife of Erik Karlsson), Britt Smith (wife of Zack Smith), Hayley Thompson (girlfriend of Mark Stone) and Bibbi Alfredsson (wife of former team captain Daniel Alfredsson), at the Ottawa launch of The Shoebox Project, held at the Zibi Presentation Centre on Tuesday, November 21, 2017. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Celebrated philanthropic couple Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg arrived late, but they came bearing shopping bags brimming with enough little luxuries to stuff 12 shoeboxes, along with leftovers for a dozen more.

Crook had just come from the Rideau Centre, where she had picked up a few final items to include in her boxes. While at the downtown shopping mall, she crossed paths with a young panhandler from the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter. Crook took the time to hear her story. She also offered to buy the young woman some food. Turned out, she had a craving for a Tim Hortons doughnut (don’t we all?).

“Her face was in my mind the entire time I made up our Shoeboxes,” Crook later told OBJ.social.

The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, book club members Melissa Shabinsky, Sandy Connell, Alexandra Zanella, Mary Taggart, Krista Kealey and her sister-in-law, Korey Kealey, skipped their scheduled book club to attend the local launch of The Shoebox Project initiative to collect and distribute shoeboxes filled with gifts for women living in shelters over the holidays. Photo by Caroline Phillips
The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, Valamode owner Dia Shams with Angie Cambareri, owner of Vincent boutique, Bahar Marvizi, Laila Saikaley from Silver Scissors Salon and Tanya Holmes at the Zibi Presentation Centre on Tuesday, November 21, 2017, for the Ottawa launch of The Shoebox Project. Photo by Caroline Phillips
The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, eco-fashion designer Megan Duffield with Canadian film financing expert Sheila O'Gorman, Fiona Murray Cook and Tara-Leigh Mierins at the Ottawa launch for The Shoebox Project holiday gift giving drive, held at the Zibi Presentation Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips
The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
Melissa Shabinsky, who sits on the board of directors for the Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation, with her daughter, Alexa, at the Ottawa launch of The Shoebox Project initiative to collect and distribute shoeboxes filled with gifts for women living in shelters. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Tara Shields, who is helping to coordinate the shoebox drive in Ottawa, says they’re aiming to collect 2,000 boxes this year. She suggests that participants look for nice items -- not cheap junk -- to make recipients feel special. Recommended gifts include cosmetics, hair and body washes, nut-free chocolates, bus fare, warm mitts, teas and gift cards.

The Shoebox Project - Ottawa launch
From left, Cathy Auchinleck and Tara Shields are volunteering as Ottawa coordinators for The Shoebox Project to collect and distribute shoeboxes filled with gifts for women living in shelters over the holidays. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participants are encouraged to include a warm and supportive message, and to wrap the box and lid separately in order for the shoeboxes to be easily opened for inspection.

As for how much money to spend on gifts, look at budgeting about $50 for each shoebox.

- caroline@obj.ca