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‘Anti-bait truck’ shoe giveaway draws big crowd in West Englewood

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Rapper Vic Mensa talks with Lazaria Hudson, 15. At an event where his foundation, Save Money Save Lives handed out free shoes behind the Englewood Community Center. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Even with temperatures soaring into the 90s, people young and old lined up early Sunday outside the West Englewood Community Center for an “anti-bait truck” shoe giveaway organized in response to a sting operation that triggered wide criticism.

Linda Fowlkes, a longtime Chicago resident, said she arrived around noon to wait under the brutal sun for the event that wouldn’t begin until 3 p.m. But she said she was grateful for the giveaway. And she said she wished the shoes in the original so-called “bait trucks” could have been donated to the community.

There are “a lot of people in Chicago that have children and really can’t afford the name-brand gym shoes,” she said.

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Brandon Lott, 13, poses with his new shoes that he got from Vic Mensa’s foundation, Save Money Save Lifes shoe give away event. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Rapper Vic Mensa’s SaveMoneySaveLife foundation organized the drive after video of the “bait trucks” went viral. Norfolk Southern Railroad organized the sting, which involved trucks full of shoes that appeared to be unguarded. It had help from the Chicago Police Department, but a spokesman said CPD did not help plan the sting.

Three men, ages 21, 36 and 59, were arrested for breaking into the “bait trucks.” Most of the charges were later dropped.

Confronted with the argument that no one would be arrested if no one tried to steal, Mensa compared the sting in an interview to a hungry man standing outside a locked bakery.

“Eventually being told ‘no,’ being told ‘no,’ eventually your survival is going to kick in,” Mensa said. “You’re going in that bakery. You’re going to get a loaf of bread, because you have to eat.”

Pershais Comer, 9, and Cameron Comer, 8, posing with their new shoes they got from Vic Mensa’s foundation, Save Money Save Lifes shoe give away event. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Mensa said he had about 15,000 pairs of shoes to give away Sunday, donated by people and organizations all over the world. He fully expected there to be enough for everybody. He said he has also been in touch with group homes, and he said there has been talk of holding additional events.

The rapper’s aides said they would have shoes made by Puma, Adidas, Nike and Converse to give away.

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Rapper Vic Mensa hands out shoes at an event were his foundation, Save Money Save Lives handed out 6,000 free shoes behind the Englewood Community Center. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

Norfolk Southern apologized for the sting that prompted Mensa’s event.

Its operation “was in direct response to ongoing cargo theft from parked and locked containers and trailers in that area,” Norfolk Southern official Herbert Smith wrote in a letter. “It must be noted that these break-ins included the theft of guns and ammunition that found their way into the local community.”

However, Smith also wrote that, “Norfolk Southern recognizes that, despite the need to safeguard freight in the area, this operation eroded trust between law enforcement and the community. We sincerely regret that our actions caused further unease, and we don’t plan to use this method in the future.”

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