Mulroney women join forces with Parliament Hill for holiday charity

OTTAWA – There’s a run on shoeboxes around Parliament Hill this season, and it has nothing to do with the latest in stacked heels or pumps.

An informal Christmas donation idea thought up by the Mulroney family women two years ago has spilled over into a major grassroots charitable drive across Canada, including among Canada’s political movers and shakers.

The Shoebox Project has donors put together a kit of “little luxuries” for women who are spending the holidays in a shelter — mascara, mittens, gift certificates. The recipients include refugees, the homeless and the abused.

Caroline Mulroney, daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, said the project spread by word of mouth after her brother Ben’s wife Jessica suggested the idea two years ago.

“We set our goal at 156 shoeboxes, and we asked our other two sisters-in law to join us, and we put together an email list and sent it to our girlfriends,” Caroline Mulroney said in an interview.

“The letter got forwarded and forwarded, and (soon) we were receiving boxes from people we didn’t know.”

By 2012, the project had spread to 10 cities with 2,700 boxes delivered, purely on the steam of volunteers and a website. Many charities collect donations of necessities and items for children, but few are dedicated solely to lifting a woman’s spirits.

“The immediate impact is to let somebody who’s going through a difficult time know that they’re not forgotten, that someone in the community is thinking about them,” said Mulroney, who works for venture fund Wellington Financial.

“I think for some women they probably haven’t received a gift like this in a very long time, if ever, and I think that can be meaningful as well.”

Mulroney spoke about the project on television last year, capturing the interest of cabinet minister Lisa Raitt. Raitt is now one of the drive’s promoters on Parliament Hill, and will be accepting boxes at her constituency office for delivery to local shelters.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s wife Laureen, Mulroney matriarch Mila, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay and wife Nazanin Afshin-Jam are expected to take part in tonight’s launch in Ottawa.

“We give to our partners, we give to our kids at Christmas and when we think about buying a luxury item for ourselves, we put it at the bottom of the list, and a lot of women do that who don’t have anything,” said Raitt.

Raitt said she has a plan for her own shoebox donation, and it will include some perfume.

“It’s just taking a moment to remember that we’re really fortunate on the Hill, we all have very good jobs, and a lot of women don’t,” she said.

“These things will be incredibly personal and incredibly valuable to them.”