2017-01-04 / Local News

‘Sneakerhead’ spearheads collection for underprivileged kids

MEET JUSTIN LIEBMAN…
By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

FAMILY: Father Jesse, mother Lisa, sister Lauren, 16

HOME TOWN: Cherry Hill

FAVORITE SPORT: Lacrosse

FAVORITE SNEAKERS: Foamposite Phoenix Suns, Air Jordan 1

SIZE SHOE: 9

Back in seventh grade, when collecting basketball sneakers became a thing, Justin Liebman bought his first designer pair.

For the Cherry Hill resident, it wasn’t about fitting in or following the trend de jour. He was simply captivated by a futuristic looking pair of Nike Air Foamposite One “Phoenix Suns.”

“It was a different shoe,” he recalled. “I loved the bold color and then the culture around basketball shoes.”

Most of the other middle-school collectors soon lost interest: But not Justin. After acquiring the first Phoenix Suns, one pair of well-worn rubber-soled shoes at a time was a thing of the past. From that day on, his radar was eternally tuned to the most interesting shoes on the market—from Air Jordans designed by pediatric cancer patients to innovative Crazy Light Boosts by Adidas.

Browsing through mall sneaker stores would no longer cut it either. Justin discovered his inner businessman by wheeling and dealing at regional conventions with seasoned sneaker salespeople. With his growing inventory, he created a successful online store.

Now a junior, Justin is the undisputed kingpin sneakerhead of Cherry Hill East. While proud of his reputation and success in selling, buying and trading, Justin found himself yearning to use his talents to a more meaningful end. This summer, it hit him after reading articles about poor children in Haiti who were getting gravely sick after playing sports without proper footwear. With hundreds of pairs in his collection, he started formulating a plan to help kids who couldn’t afford shoes. This was the start of “Karing4Kicks,” a non-profit organization that, at its first event, collected hundreds of pairs of shoes for an organization that distributes them worldwide.

“We take shoes for granted,” he said. “Especially a person like me who has made his career in sneakers. I have never had to worry about not having shoes. It’s heartbreaking to know that kids are afraid to play sports because they don’t have shoes.”

The articles described children suffering from serious infections after playing basketball and soccer without shoes. Strapping cardboard around their feet in order to play the game, their feet would get torn up, he explained. Then, as a CIT at Camp Canadensis this summer, he realized the dangers firsthand when comforting one of his eight-year-old campers who was crying in pain from a splinter he got from taking just a few steps outside the bunk barefoot (not that the kids hadn’t been warned!)

Justin, who is involved in numerous service clubs at East as well as DECA, an entrepreneurial program for high school students, formulated his plan over the summer. After creating Karing4Kicks, he enlisted friends and his sister Lauren to help generate interest at East in the cause.

“It took a lot of publicizing, but I have a pretty big voice in school and it was not only me but a team of five other kids working with me,” he said. “We used social media, publicized in the school, extended it to local businesses and gave boxes for parents to take to work.”

The drive was a great success, garnering some 300 new and slightly used shoes for Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that redistributes shoes to people in need in 127 countries. Justin said he is planning other events throughout the year but is still working out whether they will be straight collections or other types of fundraisers.

“People who helped out were really touched by the cause,” he said. 

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