Thursday, October 28, 2021

“The Shoe Lady” Speaks to the DWCM About Laces of Love

Laces of Love with DWCM Members | Submitted Photos

Members and guests of the Democratic Women’s Club of Marco (DWCM) enjoyed a lively, fun, heartwarming, and inspiring presentation by Jeanne Nealon, founder of “Laces of Love.” at their May 14th meeting. The 25 participants donated 38 pairs of shoes plus some socks, tee shirts and $704.  Everyone was encouraged to spread the word about Laces of Love and to hold shoe parties inviting Jeanne Nealon to speak.

First, there was a brief training in how to use, a tool to reach our legislators in Florida and in Washington.  President Stephanie Ballo urged members to join to find out the five things everyone can do each week by contacting our members of Congress.

After which Mr. John Jenkins, candidate for the Collier County Commissioner District 1, briefly spoke to the group.  He said that party affiliation doesn’t matter.  Neither the “D” nor the “R” is important.  This election is all about the “C” – Clean water, Children, Community, and Collier County.

Jeanne Nealon then addressed the crowd. As a middle-school teacher in Collier County, she won the Teacher of the Year award and also won an award in 2013 from the American Association of University Woman.  She has written a heart-warming book, Laces of Love telling of her experiences and the wonderful people she has met over the years.

The “Shoe Lady,” a moniker soon adopted by recipients of Laces of Love shoes, began her mission one day after school in 1981. She noticed one of her migrant students sitting outside the school waiting for his parents to finish picking crops when the sun went down.  Mrs. Nealon took the student home and discovered his living conditions.  Then she noticed his dilapidated shoes which were taped together and falling apart.  She bought her student a pair of new athletic shoes.  Other teachers and people began to donate new shoes, and every Friday, Mrs. Nealon opened her trunk and let students who needed shoes (or other donated items) take what they needed that fit.  “The Shoe Lady” related that one day, the school office notified her that several boxes had arrived for her.  When she got to the office, she discovered boxes of potatoes and tomatoes from migrant workers with a note, “We love you, Mrs. N.” 

DWCM Members & Guests Engage in Presentation

Laces of Love is a non-profit, totally volunteer organization.   Its mission is to help children who need new shoes but whose parents lack the funds for the purchase.  Where do they live in Collier County?  Mrs. Nealon replied, “In our own backyards.”  It is heartbreaking to see the number of underprivileged families who have settled in Collier and Lee counties and who live and labor for a pittance.  Some are migrant workers who move with the harvesting seasons.  Some are middle-class families that have fallen into hard times.  They are good-hearted, caring people who are so willing to work that they accept any menial job they can find to provide for their families.”

We encounter these children and their parents everywhere in Collier and Lee counties.  They are families trying to get by on minimum- or low-wage jobs.  It could be any of us, fallen on difficult times.  In fact, over 60% of kids in Collier and Lee Counties are designated “economically needy.”

Since August 2005, Laces of Love has given out over 150,000 shoes. “New shoes give children confidence and acceptance.  They know that somebody cares about them.”  Children and their parents are always grateful.  Mrs. Nealon read some of the thank you notes she has received over the years and recounted experiences of parents who recognized her in a store and stopped to help her sort shoes and to thank her for helping them in hard times.

“The Shoe Lady” captivated the audience with stories of seven of the recipients of shoes all of whom were delighted and very grateful.  One story centered around a young man who always offered to help his teachers, especially the coach.  His shoes were literally falling off his feet.  One day, the coach gave him a new pair of “cool black” running shoes.  The young man cried as he was so delighted and grateful.  But, he came back the next day with a sad face and gave back the shoes as his mother had told him that she could not afford them.  The coach informed him that the shoes were free.   When this young man came to school the next day, he had a huge grin on his face.  Around his neck, he wore the Laces of Love shoe tag with a lovely thank-you note from his mother on it.   

“Give a new pair of shoes to a needy child and watch something magical happen.  The connection created between the kindness of others and a needy child can transform a life.”

If you wish to read some of Mrs. Nealon’s heartwarming stories of children who received new shoes, you can obtain her book on where you can see some of the children’s pictures with their new shoes.  If you would like to donate shoes, money, or time to help Laces of Love continue its mission, go to the above website to find out where to bring the shoes or money and to find out how to help this worthy cause.

There will be no meeting in July. Representative Kathleen Passidomo will speak at the August meeting.

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