Sneakerheads donate prized kicks to help those in need

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CHICAGO — Cameron DeHaven is passionate about two things: his job as an ER medic and collecting high-end sneakers. 

For DeHaven, his tower of collector sneakers had always been a point of pride. Until roughly two years ago. 

“I just woke up and kind of felt a little guilt about having so many,” DeHaven said. 

So he called up a bunch of his fellow “sneakerhead” friends to see if they would be willing to join him in taking high-end sneakers off their shelves and getting them into the hands of those who needed them most. 

“Instead of having this wall of shoes, why not take two or three pairs and donate them?” he recalls asking.

So the nonprofit now known as SneakerHeartz was created. Within three weeks, the group of 10 friends had collected more than 700 pairs. Three months later, more than 3,000 pairs were stacked high in DeHaven’s garage. 

With shoes in hand, they made bulk donations to groups like ChiCares and area schools.

“We would bring two- or three- hundred pairs and the kids will come down and try them on,” DeHaven said. “You think you understand the need and then you’re out there and it’s just overwhelming.” 

Every giveaway prompted DeHaven and his crew of friends to round up more donations, finding a different kind of joy in lifting the tissue off a new pair. 

“Sneakerheads love opening a new box, but it was something we wanted other people to feel,” SneakerHeartz crew member Jason Perez said. 

The group made an ambitious goal to get 10,000 pairs either donated or recycled by the end of the year. They got to 10,092 at exactly 5:34 p.m. on December 31, according to DeHaven.

“It goes to show how many people are on board to do something to make a difference,” Perez said. 

And for DeHaven, he said watching a kid open a new box of sneakers far outweighs anything stacked in his own closet. 

“It’s pretty incredible to see. It just never gets old,” he smiled.

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