NAPLES, Fla. — Jessica Dang is an Army veteran and mother of three who lost her husband, another veteran, in a tragic accident several years ago.
On Friday, she received new school supplies and new shoes for her two sons, as well as 26 others from Southwest Florida.
But for Sheara Hamilton of American Gold Star Mothers of Southwest Florida, the shoes have a special connection.
The story of every Gold Star Mother is one of unthinkable loss. Sheara Hamilton became one when her son, Marine Lance Corporal Austin Ruiz, died in 2017 in a training exercise in California. He was only 19.
Five years later, she and other American Gold Star mothers of Southwest Florida want to keep giving, as she thinks of another family member.
“Gerardo was my son-in-law, he got involved last year with school supplies," says Hamilton.
“He grew up in kind of a poor area and shoes were really important to him. And he knows that kids get bullied and just want to fit in. He died last year, September 9th of COVID. He was only 26 years old - and it’s just a great way to continue his legacy.”
She understands the pain of loss, and keeps memories alive by paying it forward.
“We’ve had a lot of shared experiences and it definitely brought tears to my eyes. Definitely grateful to be included today," says Dang.
“It’s a lot like dad. It’s a similar story," adds one of her sons.