Deborah Zelezniak

Santa Shoebox Project

What does your company do?

At the outset, I feel it’s important to highlight that, despite being established in 2006 as an end-of-year gift giving initiative benefitting underprivileged children, just 4 years ago, as COVID was kicking off, we significantly expanded our offering in the direction of Socio Economic Development with a focus on Early Childhood Development (ECD). Read on for more ;) The Santa Shoebox Project encompasses two initiatives - 

 Santa Shoebox - This much loved gift of 8 stipulated essentials and treats is pledged online by thousands of donors each year, who choose their beneficiary children by first name, age and gender. We also provide the child's clothing size. Each donor is linked to a Drop Off in their area, and every beneficiary child on the lists uploaded, lives in or around that donors’ community. Every Shoebox can be tracked via the QR-coded label generated by our system, from the moment it’s pledged until the magical moment it is handed to the specific child for whom it was pledged. This is personal! 
SSP Legacy - Using privately donated and self-generated funds, we train ECD practitioners, install reading corners in under-resourced ECD centres, and build EC centres from the ground up in vastly under-resourced rural areas. We have just broken ground on our 5th ECD build, this one in the KwaVala district of rural KZN.

What is your biggest success?

I believe my greatest achievement within the Santa Shoebox Project has been that of addressing its financial sustainability. While the Project is enormously fortunate to have the support of organisations like PEP, the Hyprop Foundation and MySchool (among many others which provide financial donations, goods and services), I have always believed it critical to create a sustainable, self-generated income stream - ensuring that the Project is able to continue serving its precious beneficiaries. 

 The Virtual Santa Shoebox plays that role. It’s a Santa Shoebox containing all 8 required items - plus extras like books and reusable feminine hygiene products - which is packed by the Santa Shoebox team, and allocated to children living in far-flung rural areas, with no geographically-associated donor base. Where the need is greatest, the surrounding community’s ability to meet that need is often smallest. A VSS costs the donor R450 (plus an optional delivery fee) and yields cash surplus which funds SSP Legacy initiatives. It truly is a win win!

What has been your biggest hurdle?

It has been challenging feeling the need to justify the value of a Santa Shoebox. We have long fought the battle of explaining to and convincing our supporters that a Santa Shoebox is SO much more than “just” a gift. The Measurement and Evaluation requirement of the Socio Economic Development framework doesn’t adequately provide for expressing the value of a desperately impoverished child receiving an abundant gift. Now that we’ve passed the 1.2 million Santa Shoeboxes distributed mark, and are into our 19th campaign, we’ve created a significant footprint of kindness, which is more easily recognised by stakeholders.