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A Christmas “shoe-in”

Mel’s Total Fitness teams up with JAG students to offer shoe boxes full of Christmas presents

For many people, Christmas time is more of a season of giving gifts to those in need than it is of receiving gifts for themselves.
Melanie Fontenot of Mel’s Total Fitness in Ville Platte is doing her part to take this one step further by “giving Jesus Christ to kids worldwide.”
She gets students and members of her gym involved to fill shoe boxes with gifts and other items to be shipped around the world and sent to children who do not have gifts for Christmas.
“Last year I stumbled across the project, and it was almost collection week,” Fontenot said. “In about three weeks, we got together 75 boxes and filled them up with toothpaste, soap, a washcloth, a comb, school supplies, and toys.”
“It’s so heartfelt that a simple toothbrush can change the kids’ lives because they have to share a toothbrush with nine other kids,” she continued. “Or they have to share soap because they’re in an orphanage and are sharing a bar of soap with 100 boys. Also, a little princess crown lets girls know that somebody loves them.”
This year Fontenot was able to collect enough for 100 boxes. “I decided to start early this year, and I approached a bunch of teachers,” she said. “We got some Kindergarten students to color frames, and the teachers taught their students where the boxes were going like The Philippines, Nambia, Cambodia, and Madagascar. They thought Madagascar was just a movie, they didn’t know it was a real place.”
Fontenot also decided to team up with Dianne Johnson’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) students. “Dianne needed a project,” Fontenot said. She added, “I told her that I would love for them to make some zip-lock bags with duct tape so we can have pencil pouches. Her class said they were going to make enough.”
According to Johnson, “My students really took heed to it because they felt like it was a part of them they were giving. They gave with all their heart. Knowing that their hands were able to touch something that would go forward to somebody else made a difference for them.”
Fontenot went on to explain what goes into each box. “Every box has school supplies, personal hygiene items, two toys, and puzzles,” she said. “The box is always topped off with a little wild item which is a stuffed animal, a baby doll, a Barbie doll, or a ball.”
The boxes also include a note and are labeled for a boy or a girl ages 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. A new item was available this year for girls between the ages of 10 and 14. These items were reusable sanitary napkins.
“I found out that in other countries there are girls who miss a week of school when it’s that time of the month because they don’t have the necessities to go to school,” said Fontenot. “There’s a pattern to make them, an my daughter learned in one day how to sew. She made about 60 reusable pads with the Velcro, and Patty Soileau’s mom, Joyce Manuel did about 30 pads. Every box will have six sanitary napkins.”
After all of the items are collected, Fontenot holds a packing party at her gym where the boxes are packed. “I put everything out and explain to the ladies what goes in each box,” she said. “The ladies came and started picking a boy or a girl and the age group, and they packed the boxes. Then we went deliver the boxes at the Baptist church which was the drop off point.”
Fontenot then explained the benefits that these shoe boxes bring to children worldwide. “There’s so many stories of these kids getting educated because they got a shoe box,” she said. “Now they’re in the United States packing their own shoe boxes and have a college education because of the shoe boxes. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.”
She also hopes that this project can become a family Christmas tradition. “My girls are grown,” Fontenot said. “They’re 23 and 27, and they both have a son. They both came with the boys and packed a shoe box for a boy age 2-4 because they want to have that tradition with the boys.”
“We didn’t have that when I was a kid,” she continued. “I want the boys to learn how to pack a shoe box and learn that they can be able to explain that when they get older.”
The most important thing for Fontenot is how rewarding the project is for her. “I don’t expect anything in return, but I know that there are going to be 100 more kids who will get a shoe box,” she said. “There are hundreds and thousands of shoe boxes out there, and there are still kids who aren’t getting a box. There are still kids that sit at the gate because they don’t get a box. There’s only an X-amount, and some kids get left out. We’re just hoping that no kids are left out where these 100 boxes go.”

Evangeline Today

145 Court St.
Ville Platte, LA 70586
Phone: 337-363-3939
Fax: 337-363-2841