Two caring women with one goal: 1,000 boxes of Christmas miracles

Monday, November 21, 2005
Erica Maleckyj stands in her and Ruth Daly's garage with some of the 1,000 shoeboxes in Christmas wrap, filled with toys, games, T-shirts and toiletries. The boxes are going to Operation Christmas Child of the Samaritan's Purse organization, who will distribute them to needy children all over the world. Kathryn Lucariello / Carroll County News

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Maybe if you were Imelda Marcos, you'd make room in your garage for 1,000 shoeboxes, but vanity is not why Erica Maleckyj and Ruth Daly have them in their garage.

Their shoeboxes are wrapped in bright Christmas paper, they're full of little toys and personal items, and they're going all over the world to children who otherwise wouldn't have a Christmas.

The two 40-year friends have been involved in this Operation Christmas Child/ Samaritans' Purse project for five years. It started out with a goal of 200 shoeboxes.

"Every year Erica has made her goal, plus at least one," Ruth says. Last year's goal was 700; they made 701. This year they had 1,000 boxes as the goal, and they made it.

Five local churches have been involved with the effort: Beaver Lake Baptist, First Christian Church in Eureka Springs, Holiday Island Baptist, Holiday Island Community Church and Lone Star Bible Church.

All year long the ladies collect shoeboxes for this effort at Christmastime. The organization delivered 7.6 million shoeboxes last year.

"Every single lady who brought shoeboxes said they are starting tomorrow for next year," Erica said.

"Ruth is the head of this," Erica says in the garage, surrounded by a thousand brightly wrapped boxes while Ruth is in the house.

"Erica has an absolute passion for this," Ruth says later, each one giving the other credit.

They've always been involved in the helping professions. Both registered nurses, they met in Chicago 40 years ago when both worked in the same hospital. Erica was a recent German immigrant with two children. After her husband died suddenly and she was left adrift, Ruth said, "I'll help you," and they've shared a household ever since, moving to Eureka Springs in 1970.

They worked at Eureka Springs Hospital, wrote the procedure manual for the emergency room, and taught the first EMT class.

They each cared for aging parents at home, and Ruth's father and Erica's mother both died in their home.

"My mother died in my arms," Erica said. "You have no idea what a blessing that is."

She's a firm believer in helping others.

"You'd be surprised what one little shoebox can do for a child or the mother who has nothing," she said.

Ruth echoes that.

"I've heard her say so many times: 'I picture a little girl in a third-world country who's never had a Christmas present, and that mother who's never been able to give her child a Christmas,'" Ruth said. "And then we both start crying."

This year some of the shoeboxes will go to children in the U.S. who have been left with nothing because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The boxes contain dolls, diaries, calculators, stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons, soap and washcloths, puzzles, toothbrushes and paste, lollipops, balls and tea towels with animals on them. And T-shirts donated by Christian apparel and gift company Kerusso of Berryville.

Ruth and Erica are taking the boxes by truck this weekend up to a drop-off at the College of the Ozarks in Branson. While it is too late to take any more donations for this year's distribution, shoebox collection has already begun for next year.

"If there are those who read this and are interested, call Erica and she'll get them involved," Ruth said.

"We are responsible for what is around us, the environment, animals, everything," Erica said. "But that is not my life. My life is what comes out of me. If you want to have a blessing, give something of yourself away."

Ruth and Erica can be reached at (479) 253-6657.

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