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Columbia woman collects 27,000 pairs of shoes for needy

Columbia woman collects 27,000 pairs of shoes for needy
Rachel Quade is dwarfed by the thousands of shoes she collected for Soles4Souls, which provides shoes for the needy in this country and in Africa. (Photo by Phil Grout, Patuxent Publishing)

More than four months ago, Columbian Rachel Quade set a goal for herself: Collect 50,000 pairs of shoes for Soles4Souls.

Quade didn't quite make that goal. Still, when her drive ended this week, she had amassed 27,160 pairs of shoes for the Nashville-based nonprofit, which donates footwear to people in need across the country and across the globe.

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On Friday, Quade, 43 and her husband sent off the second and last shipment of shoes to Tennessee: 9,590 pairs of shoes.

It was an emotional end to her campaign, for more than one reason. Since the last shipment was sent out on Veterans Day, Quade spent the morning in a warehouse off Route 1, rather than in Arlington National Cemetery, where her step-father, a veteran, is buried. A close friend also passed away on Sept. 11, 2009, so the number 11 has special meaning to Quade.

"I'm here, (rather than Arlington) but I'm giving back," she said. "It's a way of honoring the people that have gone. I know (the shoes) are going to do so much good."

Quade has her journey broken down into numbers, which include the organizations that helped: 27,160 pairs of shoes, 21 schools, 12 weeks, 10 churches, seven Columbia village centers, three gyms, two colleges, one community. One person.

"It takes one person to want to do something," she said. "That's how things start."

Other aspects of the campaign are not so quantifiable, however. Quade's husband, Bill, said local students put in "countless hours of volunteer work" helping Quade unpack, sort, and then pack again the thousands of shoes.

"People from everywhere would come and help," Rachel Quade said. "The best way I know how to describe it is, it was like Christmas. Every time we would get shoes would be like Christmas. This wasn't for me, but it still felt that way, because I knew it would be so much hope for those kids."

The kids Quade refers to are impoverished AIDS orphans living in Africa, with whom she spent time during a service trip to Tanzania earlier this year, distributing shoes with the nonprofit. She started her shoe drive July 1, with the goal of collecting 50,000 pairs of shoes by November.

While she did not reach her goal, she said she's thrilled with the number of shoes she was able to collect. Quade said she's not sure if she wants to conduct another shoe drive, but it's something she's considering for the future.

Quade initially ran the shoe drive out of her Columbia house, but she soon became overwhelmed. Sanford Management Company donated an ezStorage space off Route 1 for the drive, Quade said, and she's received tremendous support from the entire county in her efforts.

Donations came in from the University of Maryland women's basketball team, and several county schools held shoes drives of their own. Hammond High School, Quade said, donated more than 3,000 pairs of shoes collected by students. Howard High School donated more than 1,700 pairs.

"The county stepped up," she said. "Howard County gets wrapped up in being the best in everything, so for people to take this time, make this effort … and this is just one county. Imagine if we could do this in Baltimore County, Calvert County, Prince George's, Anne Arundel … it would be incredible."

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