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100,000 pairs of shoes making their way to Haiti; Needs of people after earthquake test his mission.

Byline: Ellie Oleson

Alexander Diaz said he finally knows why God drove him to start collecting 100,000 pairs of shoes for the needy one year ago.

"When I saw the devastation in Haiti, I knew that is why I started," he said.

Mr. Diaz said he has a special affinity for those living on Haiti, since he grew up on another Caribbean island. He and his two brothers and sister were raised by their mother in Cayey, Puerto Rico.

Though he grew up poor, he said, "I always had a pair of shoes. That's what I wanted for my birthday. When my feet are happy, I am happy."

He is determined that the devastated victims of the Haiti earthquake will not have to trudge through the dirt with bare feet.

"They are already poor people. I feel obligated to get to their hearts. Soles4Souls will pick up the shoes and get them inspected, cleaned and delivered to Haiti," Mr. Diaz said.

Elizabeth M. Kirk, director of public relations for Soles4Souls at the charity's headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., said, "Alexander has already begun sending the shoes. They are earmarked for Haiti."

Many of Mr. Diaz's shoes have been collected at his stores. He and Jamie Salisbury, 51, his partner of nine years, and their adopted son, Jack Salisbury, 21, own three franchises for The UPS Store in Auburn, Holden and Worcester.

Last March, Mr. Diaz said, "I will be the first individual to donate 100,000 pairs of shoes to Soles4Souls. That is my goal."

Less than a year later, he has nearly accomplished that goal, having collected and boxed more than 90,000 pairs of shoes - and still counting.

"I couldn't have done this without the generosity of thousands of people," he said, offering special thanks to the many area schoolchildren and staff members who helped. He expects to reach his goal of 100,000 shoes by week's end.

Shoe drives were held in public schools in Auburn, Worcester, Charlton, Grafton, Sutton, Leicester, Franklin, Holden, West Boylston, Spencer, Shrewsbury and Dudley. Montessori Schools in Auburn and Worcester also collected shoes for the effort.

Also collecting shoes were students and staff at Trinity Catholic Academy in Southbridge, Notre Dame Academy in Worcester, Nichols College in Dudley and Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester.

More than 5,000 pairs of shoes were collected last week by students of the Auburn Public Schools.

At Auburn's Bryn Mawr Elementary School, shoes were piled high in the gymnasium. Mr. Diaz said to them, "I don't have words to tell you. I'd love to hug you all. Thank you so much. We can make a difference."

Second-grader Savannah N. Rielly, 8, said, "I want to donate two pairs of shoes to someone who needs them because their feet might hurt."

Justin C. Caldwell, who lugged in a large paper bag filled with 22 pairs of shoes from his class, said, "We bought our shoes at Walmart. These are good shoes."

"If I donate, I can make a difference in someone's life," said Emma M. Ganley, 8.

"Shoes can protect your feet from crabs or bugs or rocks," said Rachel M. Grandmaison, 8.

Thomas J. Messina, 8, said, "Shoes help you from getting hurt and getting diseases. They help you from getting splinters and getting stubbed."

Joseph L. Cook, 8, said, "I don't want children to hurt their feet if they walk to school or burn their feet on the hot dirt. The person who gets my shoes will be very, very lucky."

Mr. Salisbury said, "The shoe collection began as a way to give back. No one but Alexander could have done this. He has amazing tenacity and is a great motivator, who cares deeply within his heart for all those around him. This is a labor of love that might not end with 100,000 pairs of shoes."

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Alexander Diaz has thousands of shoes ready to ship to the "Soles 4 Souls" donation project. Shoes may be donated at his UPS Stores in Auburn, Holden and Worcester.

PHOTOG: T&G File/RICK CINCLAIR
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 24, 2010
Words:681
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