Faces of Christmas

12 Faces of Christmas: Kristina Garabedian’s ShoeBox Sharing warms people in Fresno and Armenia with blankets, scarves

ShoeBox Sharing provides blankets and supplies to those in need

Kristina Garabedian of Fresno, who founded ShoeBox Sharing, gathers volunteers each year to make fleece blankets, then donates them and other supplies to people in Armenia, India, Rwanda, Bolivia and Romania, as well as local groups such as CASA,
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Kristina Garabedian of Fresno, who founded ShoeBox Sharing, gathers volunteers each year to make fleece blankets, then donates them and other supplies to people in Armenia, India, Rwanda, Bolivia and Romania, as well as local groups such as CASA,

The basics: Kristina Garabedian, 29, is a Fresno attorney and founder of ShoeBox Sharing, which gives blankets and other supplies to those in need. Garabedian’s focus is helping children.

What she does: Garabedian and volunteers with ShoeBox Sharing have made approximately 500 fleece blankets and 800 scarves, on average, each year for the past 10 years. They are given to groups in the Fresno area and in Armenia. The nonprofit celebrated its 15th anniversary this year. The group has also given more than 10,000 gallon-size bags filled with toiletries, toys and school supplies. Donated hospital and dental equipment have been sent to Armenia, and some supplies have gone to India, Rwanda, Romania and Bolivia. Locally, blankets and scarves this year will go to the Marjaree Mason Center, Bulldog Pantry and the Child Advocacy Clinic at Valley Children’s Hospital, which work to determine if a child has been abused. Numerous dog and cat toys are also made for animal-rescue groups from leftover scraps of fabric.

Why she does it: Garabedian grew up helping others alongside her mother at Hope Lutheran Church in Fresno and says giving is “part of my spirit.” She gives to “show love.”

The turning point: Garabedian decided she wanted to help those less fortunate after traveling to Armenia at age 13 with her father, dentist Dr. Robert Garabedian, who was doing free dental work for poor and orphaned children in the country. The trip was a “very humbling experience.” After returning home, she read a story about a pastor encouraging his congregation to fill shoe boxes for poor families in Mexico that further inspired her to create ShoeBox Sharing.

Details, details: After volunteering in Armenia for the first time, her usual long Christmas list was reduced to a single desire: a ticket back. She returned to the country nine times – in one instance, after raising $1,400 for a plane ticket as a 16-year-old selling candy at Bullard High School. Her fundraising prowess continues. She raises around $4,000 each year to buy fabric for the blankets and scarves that are made by around 50 to 75 volunteers.

In recent years, more than half of what is made has stayed in the central San Joaquin Valley. The rest is sent to Armenia. Local shipping companies have helped get items to New York, which are flown to Armenia through the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief and Fund for Armenian Relief.

What others say: “She’s very bright. She’s very outgoing. But she’s also very giving, and she’s been that way all along,” says her mother, Sharon Garabedian. “She was my best volunteer at the church because she didn’t question why are (we) doing this; she just got in there and did it, and she’s still that way with this.”

How you can help: Checks can be made out to ShoeBox Sharing and mailed to 1650 W. Roberts Ave., Fresno, CA 93711. Those interested in volunteering or learning more can call 559-970-1838, email shoeboxsharing@gmail.com, or check ShoeBox Sharing’s Facebook page for posts about upcoming blanket-making work parties.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

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