WHM: Former Miss Cumberland County Olivia Cruz Sends ‘Love Through Laces’


Photo of Olivia Cruz by Richard Krause


VINELAND — For Olivia Cruz, it’s the little things that she remembers while with children and their families picking out new shoes through her nonprofit Love Through Laces.

The 11-year-old boy crying after getting his first pair of new shoes, the girl who was now excited to attend school with her new pair and the family that quietly no longer felt the financial burden of getting their family shoes for the school year — all meant something special for Cruz.

“It’s one of my favorite things about Love Through Laces,” said Cruz, a professional dancer, choreographer and former Miss Cumberland County. “It’s about the individual experience. They get to pick out their own shoes so we know it’s something they will love. We go in with small groups of 10 kids at a time instead of being an organization that provides hundreds of shows.

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“It’s those smaller moments that are worthwhile and really make a difference.”

Cruz started Love Through Laces when she was 17. Last year, the nonprofit celebrated its 10th anniversary. It started as a one-off project with a local agency that serves the needy and found finding shoes for children challenging.

“They told me they can send families to clothing closets but the shoes were often worn down and not the right size,” Cruz said. “The shoes were much harder to come by. I thought it was a special way to give back. It made them feel special.”

Hispanic Leadership and Community

Love Through Laces finds families from local schools or other nonprofits. Cruz and her organization also do fundraisers to earn enough money to work with shoe stores they take the families to.

Cruz said while she would like to see Love Through Laces grow, she doesn’t want to see it lose that one-on-one personal touch that makes each encounter unique and memorable.

“I know if it grows much bigger, I wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Cruz said. “We’ve been around for 10 years and I love the size, the way it is now, and we’ve helped about 300 children. Even if it’s not a full-time job, everyone gets to feel special.”

Photo courtesy of Olivia Cruz.

When Cruz is not dedicating her time with Love Through Laces, she is taking part in her other passion —dancing. She travels the country as a freelance professional dancer. This past winter, she danced on the West Coast and Canada with a troupe performing the national “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” musical show.

“I’ve always known I wanted to be a dancer,” Cruz said. “I feel very privileged to be able to do this professionally.”

She also works as a dance teacher at the Arts of the Dance Centre in Vineland and choreographs for different organizations, like the Levoy Theater.

Cruz served as Miss Cumberland County in 2016 with Love Through Laces as her platform. As a Latina, she said she was always humbled to know that her organization served many Hispanics and other minorities in the region.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Cruz.

“One of the things that I noticed and was important to me was to see Love Through Laces help families that looked like me,” Cruz said. “That’s one of the most enriching parts of doing Love through Laces; knowing that I’m helping my community.

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Black and brown communities here are the ones that struggle the most. It’s important for me to know that Love through Laces is making my community even if it is just with a pair of shoes.”

Photo courtesy of Olivia Cruz.

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