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Operation Warm’s donation of shoes fills Laces of Love’s distribution bin

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Oct 28, 2022

Laces of Love volunteers are thrilled by the donation of 10,000 pairs of shoes from Operation Warm. The shoes are beign distributed to children in need of new footwear in the wake of Hurricane Ian. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A donation of 10,000 pairs of brand new shoes came at the right time for one Southwest Florida nonprofit organization.

Operation Warm provided Laces of Love with the sizable donation, allowing the local organization to provide more than 11,000 pairs of shoes, in total, to kids in need in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Donor support made the effort possible.

“We are so grateful for the support of our donors,” Operation Warm CEO and Founder Dick Sanford said in a prepared statement. “Without their help, we could not have responded so quickly to support those affected by this disaster. As schools reopen, we want to ensure that the children impacted in these communities are equipped to make their way back into the classroom.”

Operation Warm is a national nonprofit that began about 24 years ago, VP of Marketing & Programs Brenda Lee said. They manufacture their own line of brand new coats and shoes for kids in need.

Through a mutual connection and networking, Operation Warm and Laces of Love spoke about the need in Southwest Florida. Lee said Laces of Love CEO Jeanne Nealon was having to turn people away because her bins were empty, which led to the donation to replenish her stock.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Lee said. “We are thrilled to be able to contribute to something like this. We were only able to do that with funding available through individual donors.”

When Operation Warm said they were going to send a sizable donation, Nealon thought a couple hundred pairs.

“When he said 10,000 pairs it blew me away,” she said. “It had such an impact. Operation Warm really made an impact that we could give even more.”

That need was huge, as they donated about 6,800 pairs of shoes, completely emptying Laces of Love’s bins.

Nealon said they were struggling to find supply in the local stores as there is devastation all around. The best call she received was from Operation Warm, as now they could help more children who lost almost everything.

Oct. 23 was a big volunteer day, attracting 65 people who helped bag and tag the shoes to be distributed into the community.

“Some of the basketball players that received sports shoes showed up to bag and tag all these shoes. So exciting,” Nealon said.

Laces of Love provides new shoes to needy children in Lee and Collier County. With the impact of Hurricane Ian, they spread their footprint to include those impacted by the storm.

“These people on the beach and other rural areas . . . just watching the devastation. I’ve been here since ’77. I have never seen the surge and impact in our community,” she said. “I couldn’t keep up with the slamming we were getting.”

Laces of Love began in 1981, after Nealon helped one of her students at Bonita Middle School, a child who shared his shoes with his brother.

“He had the worst shoes I have ever seen. That’s when Laces of Love began,” she said.

As of Oct. 27, Laces of Love has provided more than 11,000 pairs of shoes to the community. Nealon said a good portion of the shoes are going to schools.

“United Way has been able to distribute them to so many different areas,” Nealon said. “The shoes that were received were distributed through United Way, disaster relief events at schools and primarily with elementary schools for the most in need at this time.”

If a family is in need, she encourages them to contact their school first, as Laces of Love works closely with them. Other options include reaching out to the United Way Resource Center in Lee County, or by visiting https://lacesoflove.org.