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Friday, January 25, 2013

Shoes, glorious shoes: Hudson woman donates 1,700 pairs to area nonprofits

HUDSON – Gail Kazlouskas hadn’t seen the back window of her Gambia Street garage in months.

But the sun was shining through those windows again Thursday afternoon after the 1,700 pairs of orthopedic shoes that had filled the space since her husband’s 2011 death disappeared in a matter of hours. ...

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HUDSON – Gail Kazlouskas hadn’t seen the back window of her Gambia Street garage in months.

But the sun was shining through those windows again Thursday afternoon after the 1,700 pairs of orthopedic shoes that had filled the space since her husband’s 2011 death disappeared in a matter of hours.

“It’s a relief to finally get these out of here,” Kazlouskas said, watching as dozens of people came and went with the boxes.

Kazlouskas donated the new shoes to 25 Greater Nashua agencies Thursday, hoping they would help those who cannot afford them. Officials from the dozens of groups began showing up around 1 p.m., and less than an hour later half of the shoes were gone.

Her late husband, Stanley Kazlouskas, owned Nashua’s The Downtown Cobbler, repairing and selling shoes out of its East Pearl Street location for decades.

He was in the process of moving his shop to Hudson when he died on Sept. 1, 2011, leaving his wife and thousands of pairs of shoes behind. Gail Kazlouskas did her best to rid of the shoes over the years, selling some, donating others to various charities and fundraisers.

But when it came to the 1,700 boxes of orthopedic shoes, moving them out of the garage proved more challenging.

“You have to find the right market for them,” Kazlouskas said of the shoes, which feature thick soles and Velcro straps to aid the elderly and diabetic who frequently use them. “If I was in Florida these things would sell like hot cakes.”

But Kazlouskas caught a lucky break right before the holidays, when she went for an appointment at St. Joseph Hospital and decided to ask the woman at the front desk if the hospital might need orthopedic shoes.

That woman, hospital spokesperson Sheila Caron, knew the hospital did not, but that many local nonprofits might.

“I couldn’t imagine what 1,700 pairs of shoes looked like,” she said Thursday, laughing.

So Caron contacted the hospital’s mission director, Tara Collins, who works with nonprofits in the area. Collins reached out to many who might need the shoes and the response was huge. By Thursday, about 25 agencies were expected to come pick up pairs of the orthopedic shoes.

The shoes can range in price from $30 to more than $100, Collins said, and are not covered by medical insurance. Many of the people who need the shoes are older and living on fixed incomes. Even the nonprofits who might supply the shoes to those in need often struggle to afford them, she said.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Collins said. “We get requests for orthopedic shoes all the time.”

Kazlouskas’ garage, which she rents to store her husband’s remaining inventory, was overflowing with boxes and people Thursday, as nonprofits braved the freezing temperatures to grab as many boxes of shoes as they could.

Kazlouskas and Collins handed out hot chocolate and coffee to visitors, and other volunteers helped load boxes into moving trucks and other vehicles.

Mark Thornton, coordinator of vocational services for Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, was one of many who came to pick up shoes. Many of the center’s elderly clients need orthopedic shoes, but cannot afford to buy them, he said. To be able to give away new shoes to those in need will be a big help to the organization.

“We were absolutely ecstatic to hear about this,” Thornton said. “We were not only thrilled, we were humbled by the generosity. (Kazlouskas) is so kind to offer so many of these shoes to people who could not afford them otherwise.”

Angela Beckford was also looking forward to giving the shoes away to clients. Beckford works for Harbor Homes’ medical center, providing medical care to homeless individuals and other uninsured patients in the region.

She said that most of the clients can’t even afford medications, so being able to purchase expensive orthopedic shoes would be completely off the table.

“It’s huge,” Beckford said of the donation. “I can’t even put into words how grateful our clients really are.”

Kazlouskas said she was just glad to see the shoes going to a good cause.

The nearly empty garage isn’t bad either.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” she said.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also follow Curtis
on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).