In the months leading up to Christmas 2013 Cyan Ta’eed, co-founder of Envato, did what many others do at that time of year: she read an inspiring story of a group of people making a difference. The story detailed the efforts of the Shoebox Project in Canada, who arrange for gift boxes to be sent to women in domestic violence crisis accommodation and refuges over the Christmas period. Motivated by the group's efforts, Cyan asked a group of friends and colleagues at Envato, myself included, if we would be interested in starting something similar in Melbourne in Australia. In a matter of hours, New Day Box was born.
None of us had ever started a charity before but, each with different skillsets and ideas, we went forth with high hopes. We aimed to emulate what the Shoebox Project had started with a simple concept; people in the community could donate a shoebox (or any similar sized gift box) filled with new and unused cosmetics, skincare and other treats to go to a woman in domestic violence crisis accommodation over the Christmas period. An optional inclusion in the New Day Boxes is a note of support, a powerful way to personalise the gift and let the recipient know someone in the community is thinking of her.
The first step was contacting domestic violence services, which is how we found Safe Steps, the main body for family violence in Victoria, Australia. They agreed to partner with our team and distribute New Day Boxes to refuges and crisis accommodation centres across the state. We learned more about the prevalence of domestic violence in Australia, with one woman killed each week as a result of intimate partner violence. The Christmas period sees an increase in domestic violence due to factors such as alcohol, financial pressure and increased family contact. As we were gearing up to spend the holidays with our own families and friends it seemed more important than ever to give a message of hope to someone in need.
The team at Safe Steps told us that women who seek refuge often leave dangerous situations with only the clothes on their backs. They arrive with nothing. If they have children with them, they are usually preoccupied with trying to make Christmas special for them. There are many charity organisations set up to ensure children receive Christmas gifts, but there are far fewer services like this available for women. One of our supporters spent time in refuges as a child with his mother. “Stuff like makeup is not really high on the priority list for people in those positions, really not something they can usually justify getting for themselves when in such a rough spot: exactly why this idea is so brilliant,” he told us.
A website, Facebook and Twitter account were set up in record time, and the team worked on spreading the word throughout our own networks, with great results. We discovered that people loved the idea of physically putting a personalised gift together for a woman, rather than just donating money. “Thank you for letting me be a part of the light for those who have been in such darkness,” read a card from a supporter. Friends of friends arranged for corporate sponsors to get on board, donating products for any boxes delivered that could do with a little something extra. We wanted each box to be of similar quality so they could all be enjoyed equally. Word spread about the initiative fast, and boxes were being dropped off within a few days.
Envato fully supported New Day Box in 2013 and then again in 2014, allowing its Melbourne HQ to be the collection point and storage facility for all the boxes being delivered. Envato also covered the cost of printing materials so we could ensure the boxes were consistent and looked special. Staff members at Envato gave up their spare time to help us review, pack and organise the boxes to be ready for distribution in early December.
We are currently unable to service areas outside of Victoria, but have been contacted by people who live interstate and have started similar campaigns with local crisis centres. We also had numerous groups of mainly women who got together with girlfriends to make boxes together as a part of their Christmas celebrations. Some of them even started making New Day Boxes rather than doing the usual Kris Kringle amongst friends. People also involved their schools and workplaces. One group donated 190 boxes collected from colleagues.
Looking back, we were unprepared for how big a commitment the project would be, and how much work would be involved. However, emails, comments, letters and cards from recipients and volunteers provided constant motivation. We had many people contact us who had personal experience with domestic violence and applauded the idea of giving a gift and a message of hope at Christmas time. The New Day Box team also found ourselves rising to new challenges. Some of us, who ordinarily would feel uncomfortable asking for ‘freebies’, were suddenly driven to cold-call businesses to ask if they were interested in donating product or services. We had a great deal of success gathering donations and it bolstered our efforts. Some media outlets showed interest, which meant being the subject of television, radio and newspaper interviews. Navigating the logistics of the entire operation was something the team worked together to solve, project managing in, what was for us, an entirely new way.
Envato volunteers collect New Day Boxes.
In both 2013 and 2014 the New Day Box team aimed to collect 500 boxes to distribute to women in domestic violence crisis in Victoria over the Christmas period. In total over 3,000 boxes were donated, allowing for the gifts to go well beyond the Christmas period in both years. The feedback received remains a major motivating force for the team, who are driven to continue our efforts in 2015.
“The joy and emotion that these simple gifts gave was truly moving. Some cried, others just could not believe that they were thought about by strangers.”
Program Manager, Family Violence.
“You have helped bring HOPE into the lives of these women and their smiles and surprise were evident on everyones' face. You have brought such joy to their lives this Christmas.”
Manager, Good Samaritan Inn.
“You may be assured that the women who received them were not only surprised and pleased with the contents and your lovely message, but also very touched that others in the community understand their situation and really care.”
Manager, Safe Futures Foundation.
The new skills we put into practice in 2013 were a positive professional and personal experience, and set us up for an even more successful campaign in 2014. With Envato’s continued support we look forward to maintaining the New Day Box project in years to come.
Envato volunteers help store New Day Boxes