Valrico resident Addison Kapustiak celebrates her 13th birthday and four years of Sending Smiles.

By Denise Graf

Sending Smiles, a nonprofit, was formed four years ago by then 9-year-old Valrico resident Addison Kapustiak. Today, Addison is 13, and she and her mother, Alice Kapustiak, are bringing awareness to Sending Smiles.

Addison is an e-learning student who dedicates a large portion of her time to helping others through her nonprofit. She is also an avid soccer player; however, she suffers from tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated periodic syndrome (TRAPS)—a condition characterized by recurrent episodes of fevers that can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.

“Chemo-like medications that deplete Addison’s immune system make her more susceptible to all other illnesses,” said Alice.

Addison also suffers from Chiari malformation and has undergone three brain surgeries in hopes for relief from this painful condition. In past years, she organized toy drives in her community. Due to COVID-19, and because she is immunosuppressed from her own treatments, hosting toy drives has become more difficult.

Addison receives infusion therapy at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s Infusion Center. While receiving her mediport, she was inspired to create Sending Smiles.

Addison’s nonprofit is unique in that the donations provided are specifically designated for the children being treated in the Infusion Center. There, children with serious illnesses are treated intravenously, sometimes spending full days of treatment.

There is a special toy closet within this center that only the infusion therapy patients can access. Most toys in this closet are small but help brighten the day for these young patients. For the more difficult visits, there is a special closet with extra special toys for the children.

The day when Addison received her mediport, she explained, “There were no toys in the toy closet. I felt sad for the other children.”

The barriers faced while attempting to collect donations during COVID-19 this year have not been the only hurdles to overcome for Sending Smiles. The group lost more than 1,000 toys to a rodent infestation that occurred at the storage facility where the toys were kept this year.

According to Alice, Sending Smiles’ current goal is to make up for this loss. She adds that her wish for Addison’s 13th birthday is “to make this year’s toy drive as big as the years before.”

John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital is requiring Christmas donations to be received by Monday, November 30. There are several ways to donate, including PayPal, Cash App, Venmo and an Amazon Wish List. Please visit www.facebook.com/SendingSmilestoAllKids/ for details.