How ComicBooks for Kids! brings cheer to hospitalized children and teens
A grass-roots charity that started in St. Charles has a unique mission: to provide comic books to children in hospitals and cancer centers across the country, as a way to ease their stress and discomfort.
In just two years, ComicBooks for Kids! has grown from distributing 1,000 comic books to 10 hospitals, to now working with 80 hospitals across the country and shipping more than 80,000 comic books.
"Never in a million years could I have imagined it would grow like this," says Mark Weiss, founder. "I just wanted to make hospital stays a little easier for children."
Weiss is a career IT professional with IBM -- and comic book hobbyist -- who wanted to do something rewarding as his business load lessened. Originally, he thought of donating his extensive comic book collection to local hospitals, so children could escape in them.
However, he quickly learned that was impractical. Specifically, he needed to obtain new comic books for children in hospitals, to conform with existing policies from the infectious disease specialists who deemed older comic books as platforms for spreading bacteria.
Two years ago, he attended his first Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) at McCormick Place. Weiss says he already had approached child life specialists at a local hospital, to see if they'd be interested in the comic books, and at the convention he began approaching publishers to obtain some of their overstock.
They all were on board, he says, especially when Weiss would provide a receipt of their charitable donation.
Weiss now works with nearly a dozen publishers and distributors, including Marvel and Archie comics, who provide the charity with new and overstock copies. He also works with Scholastic, which provides non-English materials -- a market he expects will triple this year.
Weiss makes sure that all of the comic books are child friendly, and have no nudity or anything of a mature nature, or excessive violence.
"The comic books provide a joy of reading," Weiss says. "Young patients are able to transport themselves to another place or another time, and alleviate some of the stress and discomfort from their treatment."
As Weiss likes to say, children can fight dragons and battle super villains, right from their hospital beds.
Testimonials from parents and hospital staff members alike are compelling and reinforce the whimsical impact of the comic books on young patients.
"I feel that these have really increased reading in our patient population," wrote Tamara Adkisson at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. "We have had some pretty excited kids over these comics."
At Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, child life specialists put them out for teen patients to enjoy.
"The comic books arrived today and we were so excited to share them with our teen patients," wrote Katelyn Zilles, teen lounge activity coordinator. "Once again, many thanks for your continuous support and help in creating a better, brighter and more exciting healing environment for those in our care."
Other local hospitals which receive comic books from the nonprofit include Northwestern Medicine Delnor and Central DuPage hospitals.
For now, Weiss runs the charity with his two adult children, who help with his website and social media. Still, Weiss concedes he is busier than ever, as he deals with hospitals, publishers as well as scheduling shipments, but he couldn't be happier and his enthusiasm is contagious.
"To know you're making a difference in children's lives," Weiss says, "is incredibly heartwarming."
The charity is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and consequently Weiss and his team accept donations. For more about ComicBooks for Kids! visit www.comicbooksforkids.org.