Brightening Kids’ Hospital Stays
“Do kids get bored in the hospital?”
That’s the question Benny Arends asked his mom while he was raising money for St. Jude by doing a board break-a-thon in his karate class in 2017. She said yes, and Benny decided he wanted to do something more to help.
That was when he was five. Now, he is nine and a third grader at South Elementary School in Jackson as well as the founder of Kids 4 Kids SEMO, an organization that donates toys to children and teenagers in the hospital. To date, Benny has donated more than 15,000 items to individuals and hospitals and has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
Benny started Kids 4 Kids by raising money online and then began doing in-person fundraisers like nerf wars, too.
“I love how when I donate to somebody or I do something right — I love the feeling, and I love to know that I helped somebody,” Benny says.
People from the community often reach out to Benny in person and via Facebook to pass along the names of individuals they know who are in the hospital; Kids 4 Kids has donated legos, craft kits, nerf guns, board games, fidget spinners and more to children who are sick. Benny and his mom, Melinda Arends, regularly shop the clearance aisles at stores to find items to include in their general hospital donations. If they know the name of an individual, they shop with that person specifically in mind.
Benny says when children receive a gift from Kids 4 Kids, their reaction is “thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Although he doesn’t always get to interact with the people who receive the gifts, he loves when he is invited into the hospital as a visitor by the family so he can meet the recipient.
So far, Kids 4 Kids SEMO has donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, University of Missouri Health Care, St. Francis Healthcare System, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. This year, Kids 4 Kids also made quarantine kits: Benny decorated 100 brown paper sacks and filled them with small toys and activity kits, leaving them on the doorsteps of children’s homes throughout Jackson and Cape Girardeau during quarantine. Benny says the community can get involved in the project by supporting events, donating online or passing along the names of children or teenagers who are in the hospital, which can all be done at the Kids 4 Kids SEMO Facebook page.
As impressive as it is, Kids 4 Kids isn’t the only way Benny is doing good in the world. Last year on Giving Tuesday, he hosted a spaghetti dinner by Kids 4 Kids SEMO to feed the community of Jackson for free. If anyone donated money, he gave it to Power Packs, the Jackson R-2 School District’s program that feeds students who are food insecure on the weekends. And as he moves forward, his goal is to help his younger brother Danny Arends with Bookworm Buddies, the organization Danny founded to provide brand-new books to children who may not be able to afford them, which recently donated more than 400 books at South Elementary, one for every student. Benny also plans to continue giving toys to young people in the hospital through Kids 4 Kids.
“I know it’s helping people. I know it’s going to make big differences in people’s lives,” Benny says of why he continues to give through Kids 4 Kids. “And I know it’s the right thing to do.”
Benny’s message to other young people is one of hope of encouragement.
“They can change the world, and anyone can make a difference, no matter what,” Benny says of what he wants other children to know. “Nothing’s impossible, and just keep trying. Eventually, you will achieve your goal. And follow your heart.”