By Kate Quesada

At this time of year, many residents are looking for ways to help those less fortunate than themselves. Nine-year-old Valrico resident Addison Kapustiak has found a way to put smiles on the faces of some of the area’s sickest children by starting a toy drive and is asking the community to help.

Addison, who is in the third grade at Lithia Springs Elementary, has a rare disease that requires regular blood transfusions at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. During one of her visits, she noticed that the prize closet, where patients can go and pick out a toy after their treatment, was very low on toys. For her next birthday, rather than ask her friends to bring gifts for her to her party, she suggested they donate an item to the closet. When she received such great support, she decided to make the drive for toys wider and Sending Smiles was born.

According to Addison’s mother, Alice, the only stipulation on the toys is that they are new and they appeal to patients from babies to 21 year olds.

“These toys are used as rewards for children to take home, so there is a wide range of possibilities,” said Alice. “Things like nail polish, crafts and hair accessories are great, but so are soccer balls, puzzles and coloring books.”

FishHawk resident Kelly Rowjohn learned about Addison’s mission to fill the closet and used her popular Facebook page, Friends of FishHawk to organize more donations.

“Addison is just such a bright light,” said Rowjohn, who coordinates many volunteer projects and has helped hundreds of people in need through her face nook page. “In spite of all that precious child has been through, she still strives to make things better for others. Her spirit just amazes me. She is such a shining example.”

Donations can be dropped off at many places throughout the area including Car Wash on the Greens, FishHawk Barbershop, Art Monkey, and other local businesses from Tampa to Lakeland. Many other community members and groups have jumped in to help the cause. T Marie’s Boutique on Lithia Pinecrest Rd. will offer a 10 percent discount to anyone who donates a toy. Jeremiah’s Italian Ice is offering a half off coupon for anyone dropping off a toy. Levi Stubbs with Green Star Realty is matching all money and toys donated. Davenport Daily Delights has pledged to donate 10 percent of its proceeds during the collection toward purchase of toys, and the Newsome High School wrestling team has made the drive its team project for the holiday season.

But Addison doesn’t want to stop collecting after the holidays. “Unfortunately, kids are sick all the time,” said Alice, who has also set up a Paypal address for people who would rather donate money for Addison to shop for toys for the closet whenever it runs low.

Paypal donations can be sent to sendingsmilestoallkids@gmail.com. For information or to help with the drive, email Alice at alliekap1@aol.com or find the Friends of FishHawk page on Facebook.