Country singers Carrie Underwood, Billy Dean donate to renewed Handbag Happy Hour

Carrie Underwood

Handbag Happy Hour returns to Fort Myers this month after being absent for about seven years. And some big celebrities have donated signed handbags and more to the charity auction

Country superstar Carrie Underwood signed two handbags for the March 25 event in downtown Fort Myers. And other donations came from country singer Billy Dean, rock drummer Steve Luongo and two local TV news anchors.

“We’ve gotten a lot of support,” says chairwoman and event co-founder Pam Cronin. “It’s a wonderful, fun event. It’s exciting. And who doesn’t love a handbag?”

Handbag Happy Hour started as a fundraiser for local nonprofit Island Coast AIDS Network (ICAN). But that event ended in about 2013.

Now Cronin and local columnist Stephanie Davis have resurrected the event they helped start and turned it into a fundraiser for Valerie’s House and The Shell Factory’s Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation. They ran the event together until about 2007.

“It was such a great event,” says Cronin, who owns The Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers. “So we said, ‘Let’s start it all over again.’”

More than 100 new or “gently loved” designer handbags from celebrities and other donors will be auctioned at The Standard Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers. Other auction items include wine, designer clothes, Cuban cigars and men’s accessories.

Underwood signed her two handbags at a concert last year in Boston. Cronin and a friend already had tickets and backstage passes, she said. So they called Underwood’s record label to see if she’d agree to sign the items backstage. The label said “yes.”

Cronin says Underwood spent 10 or 15 minutes talking to them about the handbags and the charity. “She was so gracious and so charming.”

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Other auction items include signed bottles of wine from country singer Dean, designer shirts from local rock drummer Luongo (The John Entwistle Band, Rat Race Choir), handbags from NBC-2 anchor Kellie Burns and men’s ties from NBC-2 anchor Nate Foy and meteorologist Jason Dunning.

The 5:40 p.m. event will have a “Havana Nights” theme, including flamenco dancers, bongo drummers, Cuban cigars, mojitos and Cuban appetizers. The event includes both live and silent auctions.

Davis and radio personality Gina Birch will emcee.

Tickets for Handbag Happy Hour are $50 or $800 for a table of eight. To buy tickets, visit

Valerie’s House offers support programs for grieving children after the death of a parent or loved one. The Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation pays for food, habitats and veterinary care for the animals living at The Shell Factory Nature Park, as well as transportation when Lee County school children take field trips to the park.

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Bless Your Heart!