By Ross Forman
John Makowiec remembers the first pack of trading cards he ever opened. His mom, Jenny, had taken him to a card shop near their home in north suburban Chicago, and Makowiec, then 7 years old, opened the baseball pack.
Though he doesn’t remember the brand or maker, Makowiec got an Albert Pujols card, which he thought was “really cool.” Makowiec was hooked.
“Sports card collecting has always been my favorite thing, my favorite hobby,” he said.
Flash-forward to the present, and Makowiec is completely entrenched in the cardboard world, not just filling out college admission forms. Now 17 and a senior at New Trier High School, Makowiec has turned his passion into his true pride and joy: Cards 2 Kids, a charitable organization that collects new and used sports cards, and then donates them to kids in need through national and regional charities, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Cards 2 Kids regularly is giving away hand-collated, 20-card packs to kids who are ill or may not have the means to collect cards – all with the goal of experiencing the joy of collecting sports cards.
Over the past two years, Cards 2 Kids has received more than 2 million cards, and more than 1 million have been donated – and counting.
“When we first heard about the charity, we loved the idea,” said Chris Carlin, the Sports Marketing and Social Media manager at Upper Deck. “We worked closely with John and his mother about how to grow the charity and build the website, and they took all our feedback to heart and put together an amazing organization.
“Kids are the future of our industry, so it is important for Upper Deck to partner with organizations who are interested in showing them the fun of this hobby. At the same time, it is great to be able to give and help an organization that brings so much happiness to kids who typically have a lot on their mind. Trading cards can be a great distraction, and we are happy to be just that for youngsters in children’s hospitals and in other difficult circumstances.”
“But I wanted to do something that was really close to me, something close to my heart,” he said. “Sports cards was the first thing that came to my mind. I wanted to share my passion for cards with other kids who may not be able to have those cards otherwise.”
His plan was immediately supported by his parents, and since, countless others in the hobby also have jumped on board. Take, for instance, Bleacher’s Sportscards in suburban Winnetka, Ill., where Makowiec claimed his Pujols card years ago. The store allowed him to set up a collection box for cards in the store.
“For me, it is really gratifying and I feel privileged to do this; I want to be able to give back to others. There are a lot of people who can really use a pick-me-up, and sports cards is a great way to do that,” Makowiec said. “Cards not only are fun, but educational, too. Kids can help their reading and their math with the information and statistics on the back of cards.
“It’s very gratifying for me to see a kid get cards. Seeing that kid’s face light up when he gets a card of a player he really likes, that’s awesome.”
Added Carlin, “There are so many distractions these days for kids John’s age. To see the hours he puts in personally sorting and packaging cards so kids get something they will be happy with is really inspiring.”
Makowiec’s good work has already even spurred copy cats.
“We have heard of a few other youngsters trying to run similar programs,” Carlin said.
Makowiec and his crew – including his younger brother, Joseph, 9, and his younger sister, Juliette, 8, among others – have sorted and packed every card. They sort by the player’s talent – great and average players. The 20-card packs feature about seven great players and about 13 average players.
“We’ve gotten great reception to the cards, which is awesome,” he said. “I certainly hoped this would be a long-term project, but I never imagined it’d grow to as large of a charity as it has in such a short period of time.”
Makowiec has already received cards from more than 30 states, and he has donated cards to three countries and eight states.
“The hard part, which I was not expecting, was sorting the cards. We go through every card,” he said. “We still have a ton more to donate, which I think is pretty cool, and means that there are even more kids we can reach out to.
“The reception we’ve received from the card-collecting community has been fantastic. Upper Deck has been a wonderful supporter, and others, too – companies and individuals. The reception has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
“Having worked with John and his charity for some time, we were continually impressed by his work ethic, professionalism and drive to help bring smiles to deserving kids throughout the United States and Canada,” Carlin said. “He is an inspiration, plain and simple.”
Makowiec’s card campaign has some high-profile supporters, too. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler, for instance, reached out to the charity via Twitter and then donated more than $10,000 worth of cards from his own personal collection.
Makowiec also received card donations from former pitcher Kerry Wood and Red Sox hurler Ryan Dempster, among others.
Makowiec was at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago this past summer, camped out at the Upper Deck booth for the most part, collecting donated cards – lots and lots of cards.
He left The National with 300,000 donated cards.
“That was a very cool experience,” Makowiec said. “Upper Deck has been really, really awesome.”
Upper Deck officials also surprised Makowiec with his own oversized card, which he said, “was a complete surprise, one of the coolest experiences of my life.
“I’m flattered they made it and am extremely grateful for everything,” he continued.
Carlin added, “We worked in conjunction with The National to arrange to honor John at the VIP opening event. It was the perfect place to recognize John, and with so many collectors in the room, we wanted to have a blow-up card to show off to fans so everyone could see what we created. We worked to incorporate some of the charities’ colors into the design of the card. It was great to have his parents and little sister there who were all so very proud of his accomplishment.
“It felt right to surprise him with an honor like this. He is certainly deserving.”
How you can contribute
Cards can be dropped off or mailed to card shops in Chicago for the Cards 2 Kids program.
The stores are Bleacher’s Sportscards in suburban Winnetka and Elite Sportscards, Comics & Gaming Cards in Chicago.
In addition, cards can be shipped to:
141 W. Jackson St.
Chicago, IL 60604
For more information, visit the charity’s website at www.cards2kids.org.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.