Big shoes to fill: Cumberland woman begins boot drive in grandmother’s memory

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CUMBERLAND — Many decades ago, when Berniece Matzell was a child, firefighters rushed to her parents’ home in response to a call.

Given the inclement weather outside, one firefighter plunked the girl in his relatively giant pair of boots. The oddity of the situation got Matzell the nickname “Boots,” which stuck for the remainder of her nearly 100-year life.

By the time she died last December in Massachusetts, Matzell was well known for her selfless, volunteering spirit. Her family saw fit to continue that tradition of giving by launching “Kids ‘n Boots,” an effort in Maine and beyond to help children in need between the ages of 2 and 18 keep warm this winter.

The family is working with the Salvation Army’s Winter Clothing Drive, which collects and distributes donated boots.

Tom Matzell of Belmont, Massachusetts – one of Matzell’s four children – kicked off the effort in the Bay State in September, and plans a second boot drive in January.

“He just thought, ‘what a better way to honor her, and remember her,” Jessica Shane of Cumberland – one of Matzell’s grandchildren, who is leading the effort in greater Portland – said in an interview Nov. 4.

“I’m piggybacking off my uncle,” she said with a smile.

The Maine drive will run from Nov. 19-Dec. 3. The Salvation Army will collect new and gently used winter boots, as well as monetary donations, at 10 locations:

• Scarborough Fire Station, 9 Haigis Parkway, Scarborough.

• Salvation Army, 297 Cumberland Ave., Portland.

• Portland Police Department, 109 Middle St., Portland.

• Munjoy Hill Community Policing Center, 134 Congress St., Portland.

• East Bayside Community Policing Center, 44 Mayo St., Portland.

• Parkside Community Policing Center, 85 Grant St., Portland.

• Midtown Communty Policing Center, 26 Portland St., Portland.

• West End Community Policing Center, 166A Brackett St., Portland.

• Falmouth Fire Station, 8 Bucknam Road, Falmouth.

• Cumberland Town Hall, 290 Tuttle Road, Cumberland.

Asked how she thought her grandmother would feel about Kids ‘n Boots, Shane said, “I just think that she would be over the moon. She was the most caring, vibrant 99-year-old. She would be thrilled.”

“She’d probably be here with me (helping out), if she could,” she added.

Matzell’s family hopes Kids ‘n Boots will become an annual tradition that grows each year. Those who have questions about donating boots, or would like instead to send a check, can reach Shane at or 356-3977.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Jessica Shane of Cumberland is family running the “Kids ‘n Boots” boot drive this fall and winter in greater Portland. The drive is named for Shane’s grandmother, Berniece “Boots” Matzell.

The first annual Kids ‘n Boots drive is named for Berniece “Boots” Matzell, who died last December.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.