Wheaton Iowa Associate goes above and beyond for Waterloo Rotary Shoebox Project

posted 8/15/2017 by Adam Amdor in News

The Waterloo Downtown Rotary Club's largest international project is the Nicaragua Shoebox Project. It's an effort to donate truckloads of donated material to children who struggle to live. Some of these children have to scavenge their city dump for food. Local rotarians and volunteers travel to Nicaragua each November to distribute the shoeboxes.

With this year's drive underway, people will spend roughly $45 to buy clothes, hygiene products, and toys to fill a box. But 29-year-old Minela Obic of Waterloo has just donated her fourth box this year... and it's her tenth box in the last two years. "I don't think about it as that many. I just think about 'How many smiles can I bring when they open that box?'" she said.

Minela knows firsthand what it's like to receive one of the boxes. As a child in the early 1990s she was in the middle of the Bosnian War, living in the warzone during the conflict. She received a donation box when she was six years old. "I cannot explain to you the feeling that you get when you open that. Something so little can bring so much joy to you." She received a second box after her family immigrated to Jacksonville, Florida in October 2000.

A donation shoebox is the first present many of these needy children ever receive. It lets them know that somebody, somewhere cares. "When you have nothing, you get so excited about a little play bracelet," says Obic. "Somebody cares enough to send you something like that. You're in the middle of nowhere and you don't even know who you got the package from."

Now, Minela has lived in Waterloo for the past twelve years. She's married, is a new mom, and works as a patient account analyst at Covenant Clinic. "I'm grateful to be given the opportunity to come to this state, have a job, finish school and now that I’m capable, I should give back."

In addition to surviving the Bosnian conflict, Obic had brain surgery last year. "I don't know how I’m alive sometimes! I'm 29 years old but I have been through so much in such a short period of time. Now I'm given the opportunity to do something grand like this."

In the many boxes she puts together for the Rotary Club, Minela will often put in extra play jewelry for the girls and toy cars for the boys. "I hope they find at least one item they feel close to." She also puts a card with her name in the boxes, hoping that someday one of the children she has helped will reach out to her.

"I get chills. A child in a tragic moment, or when they don't have much... They'll remember that for a lifetime and you cannot exchange that feeling with anything. Still today when I think about it, I get the same feeling when I got a box."

Anyone who would like to fill a box for the Nicaragua Shoebox Project can pick one up from the Business Development office at Covenant Medical Center. If you have any questions contact Sheila Kaplan at 272.7676 or email sheila.kaplan@mercyhealth.com.