Santa in a Shoebox kicks off its 14th year

RACINE — Santa in a Shoebox is back for another year of spreading joy this holiday season. Now in its 14th year, this non-profit is not only 100% community-driven, but it is also completely, fully volunteer-coordinated.

Javier’s Cuisine is one of two official drop-off locations for the organization. – Credit: SIAS

Santa in a Shoebox kicked off its 14th annual shoebox drive on Saturday, Nov. 12 at Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly, 5201 Washington Ave., and Javier’s Cuisine, 2011 Lathrop Ave., the two main drop-off locations for the Racine area. These and other locations will be collecting gifts, supplies, and other donations through Dec. 12 for the organization.

Humble beginnings

Founded in 2008, Diana Higgenbottom assembled 80 shoeboxes in her basement to distribute to those in Racine who needed a little help that holiday. She and her late husband delivered the gifts between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The second year saw the addition of a smaller network of close friends who pitched in to help with the effort. By the third year, Santa in a Shoebox was a community endeavor, having its first donation “home base” at Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly.

Fast-forward to 2022, Santa in a Shoebox has grown into a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that distributes thousands of shoeboxes across three counties and four major cities in Southeast Wisconsin. Both Kenosha and Milwaukee have their own “head elves” that work with Higgenbottom to organize, collect and distribute shoeboxes in their respective communities as well.

In Kenosha, Stinebrink’s Piggly Wiggly, 7600 Pershing Blvd., is a drop-off location.

The true meaning of Santa in a Shoebox is about unity, love, kindness and giving back.


Diana Higgenbottom – Credit: SIAS

What goes into a shoe box?

Part of the joy of Santa in a shoebox is the personal impact each shoebox has in the community, noted Higgenbottom. She spoke of the creativity and uniqueness in each and every box that goes out to bless its recipient. She may not know what each box is filled with, but she knows the common ingredients: love and kindness.

“I have the best seat in the house at Christmas time,” she said. “I get to see people bless others and others be blessed.”

Each shoebox is filled and wrapped with the proper age group and gender for distribution purposes. There are seven age categories of shoeboxes to choose from when designing a shoebox. From there, participants add a gender designation: Boy, Girl, or Gender Neutral.

Age groups:

  • Babies to age 2
  • Ages 3-5
  • Ages 6-8
  • Ages 9-12
  • Ages 13-17
  • adults
  • Senior

Terry and Sue from Racine show their boxes wrapped and ready to go. – Credit: SIAS

For 14 years, people have been loading up shoeboxes with new items such as toys, coloring books, crayons, gift cards, socks, gloves, brushes, books, treats, and anything else that might bring joy to someone this holiday season. The possibilities are nearly endless, as long as the items fit into a shoebox, with one stipulation: no toy guns.

One category Higgenbottom says typically falls short is the teen boxes in any gender designation.

My time is limited – how can I be involved?

Santa in a Shoebox will accept donations at various levels of “completeness.”

“You’re never limited in ways that you can serve,” said Higgenbottom.

  • Do you have empty shoeboxes but nothing to fill them with? Donate them.
  • Do you have new items for shoeboxes but no shoeboxes? Drop them off to be placed into a shoebox.
  • Do you have funds but no time to shop? Sponsor a box: Santa in a Shoebox will take those funds and use them to purchase gifts to fill the boxes, wrapping paper, tape, and anything else needed to make the campaign a success.
  • Do you have the box and the gifts but no wrapping paper? Send it unwrapped with the age and gender designation. There are wrapping parties for the boxes that come in without the finishing touches.
  • Do you have time to deliver gifts? Donate your time and help spread joy around town by handing out gifts.

Whatever level of giving and availability people have is exactly what Higgenbottom is looking for in a volunteer.

“Every little act of kindness, no matter what it looks like, makes the world a better place,” she said.

What types of places can collect gifts for Santa in a Shoebox?

Santa in a Shoebox is a great cause in which schools, scout groups, churches, workplaces, and other community organizations can get involved. Some families have made it a tradition to host their own shoebox collection and wrapping parties in their homes. Others open up their businesses as a place to collect donations.

Important dates for 2022

  • Now through Dec. 12: Shoeboxes in various stages are being collected
  • Dec 14, 6 pm: Wrapping party at Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly in Racine

Gift-wrapping party at Malicki’s Piggly Wiggly. – Credit: SIAS

For more information

To learn more, visit Santa in a Shoebox online, email santai[email protected], or call Diana Higgenbottom at 262-939-7375.

The “Kenosha Brunch Club” delivered 3 cartloads of gifts. – Credit: SIAS

Veterans Outreach deliveries fill a moving truck. – Credit: SIAS

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