Cynthia Shafer and her husband John were in Clewiston, turning right on a residential neighborhood when a squad of police cars turned left. The Shafers were lugging a child's bed out of their truck to take inside a home when a policeman came over, looked at them and asked them what they were doing there.
John told him, they were delivering a bed as part of his wife's program, Bedz for Kidz. To the Shafers' amazement, the policeman then shared his story: a year ago, the couple had given him a bed for his foster child, who he then adopted.
It's one of hundreds of stories about the amazing impact these donated beds - a commodity that is commonplace for most - have had on the lives of children in Southwest Florida.
Cynthia Shafer was awarded the 2016 Paulette Burton Citizen of the Year at the Lee County Commissioner's March 7 meeting. Courtesy photo
"Every once in a while someone tells us that we make a difference," Cynthia Shafer said.
And, it's just one story of many that earned Cynthia the 2016 Paulette Burton Citizen of the Year.
Lee County Commissioners honored Shafer with the award at the March 7 meeting. Shafer was one of three finalists.
How you can help
Cynthia Shafer said she always needs crib sheets and twin sheets - and while donations of any new sheets are welcome, she likes to give children fun, themed ones to make the bedding their own. Kids especially like sheets with popular movie and cartoon characters on them, she said.
To donate a bed set, or to donate money to the program:
Call Cynthia at 850-4388;
Drop off a check or new sheets at 2075 West First St., Suite 300, Fort Myers 33901;
Visit voicesforkids.org/foundation-programs to donate online.
"I wasn't expecting it. It blew me away," she said. "But it's not about me, it's about the kids. People get mad at me when I say that... but if I get an award, someone hears about (the program)."
A Fort Myers resident, Shafer is also a Realtor with Lahaina Realty on Fort Myers Beach.
Shafer was nominated by her sister, Donna Garvey. Currently Shafer serves as a Guardian ad Litem, board president for Voices for Kids and she's been a 16-year president and founder of Bedz for Kidz.
This program, part of Voices for Kids, ensures that children who are removed from abusive parents or guardians have their own bed when they are placed in relative or foster care.
"Those grandparents, aunts and uncles are only allowed to receive a child if they have a bed for the child to sleep in," Garvey said in the application. "Some are willing to care for the child but can't afford a bed. So she and her husband, John, started buying beds."
According to the application, Bedz for Kidz has delivered more than 2,500 beds, pillows, sheets and blankets and more than 3,000 stuffed animals to children in need since Shafer launched the program in 2001. The mattresses, sheets and blankets are all new.
"Grandparents are getting their grandchildren more and more and they're on fixed incomes, they can't afford a bed," she said.
Her program covers Lee, Hendry, Glades, Charlotte and Collier counties - sometimes Shafer drives 300 miles or more on a Saturday to deliver cribs and beds to families in need.
"I always make sure the kids get the same kids of sheets," she said. "Kids like the character sheets like Moana or Batman."
Garvey said she could tell hundreds of stories about how her sister has helped a child in need, and that she was a hero.
"I see her head out to visit children, type reports, and cry over some of those cases," Garvey said. "Then I see kids' letters saying thank you."
While balancing her Realtor duties and delivering beds, Shafer has to seek out donations and speak to groups about her program. She calls herself a committee of one with support from many - she receives donated blankets and sheets from Loving Hands in Punta Gorda, the Southwest Florida Quilter's Guild, and the Linus Project. Smaller groups and organizations will make donations too - the Canterbury School Girl Scout Troop raised $1,000 for her, as well as donated 15 bed kits, which include a blanket, sheets, pillows and cases and a stuffed animal.
Kiker and her business have also done their part to support Shafer by holding sheets and suitcases drives as well as an Angels tree for the children Shafer serves.
As a Realtor, Kiker said all of Shafer's endeavors in the industry go back to the local community.
Shafer has been appointed to multiple local housing authority committees, many of which focus on affordable housing in Lee County. She's also active on the state and national levels, attending conferences and committees.
"I've been in more homes than the senators and representatives," Shafer said.