Three years ago, my three sisters and I were doing some spring-cleaning when we realized that we had a lot of children's videos that we had outgrown. We remembered how a few years earlier, when my friend Alex was being treated in the hospital for leukemia, she would watch movies to pass the time. We decided to take our videos to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the hospital where Alex had been treated.
When we delivered our videos to the Pediatric Oncology department at Cedars, the reaction we got was astounding. The nurses were so grateful to receive anything that would help to distract young patients from the boredom and fear that goes along with being hospitalized. In fact, the child-life specialist told us that "movies are the first thing kids ask for when they are in the hospital."
We had been taught about mitzvot and tzedakah at Stephen S. Wise Hebrew school, and my parents also stress that the Jewish community takes care of those in need. So on the car ride home, we decided to collect as many videos as possible for donation. We named our new organization Kid Flicks.
We had no idea how big the endeavor would get. As of this month, we have donated 6,100 movies to 61 different hospitals throughout the United States -- and we're still collecting.
We began by mailing letters to friends and family and asking them for tapes and DVDs. Within the first week, we had received or picked up 100 movies, which we donated to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.
Every time we collected another 100 movies, we found another hospital to donate to. We would sort through the movies so that each hospital got a variety of films that would appeal to toddlers through 18-year-olds, as well as to boys and girls. Each hospital received a "movie library" of 100 films.
We also started movie collection drives at our schools. At the time, my younger sister, Berni, and I were in elementary school; my sister Romi was in middle school; and my sister Lexi was in high school. These drives, which we continue to run, were so successful that we began soliciting donations through our Hebrew school and other Los Angeles synagogues.
Our pediatrician, Dr. J.J. Levenstein, let his patients know about Kid Flicks, and now every week, we pick up bagloads of videos and DVDs from Dr. J.J.'s office and we've recently expanded the effort through the offices of our dentist and orthodontist. We also wrote solicitation letters to movie executives and producers and received hundreds of newly released videos and DVDs from many companies, including DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox Home Video.
Once we covered all of the pediatric departments of Los Angeles hospitals we donated in Orange County, Palm Springs, San Diego and Santa Barbara (we were willing to drive to any hospital that was within a five-hour round-trip). Soon we started raising money and applying for grants to ship the donations to hospitals that were farther away.
My confirmation teacher from Stephen S. Wise arranged for us to get a $500 grant from the Kavod organization, which encourages mitzvoth; We won a $500 grant from the Do Something organization; and on weekends we have bake sales in our neighborhood..
We started working our way eastward across the country and shipped as far as North Dakota and South Dakota. When Hurricane Katrina hit, we sent immediately "movie libraries" to many hospitals in the Gulf area. Our goal is to donate these libraries from Kid Flicks, which just became a tax-exempt charity, to every pediatric department and children's hospital in the country.
Last year we, along with dozens of other teens, were honored by SuLam: The Center for Jewish Service Learning at the Bureau of Jewish Education, for completing community services hours we committed to through the Sherut La'Am program. This year, I was chosen as one of 15 first-prize winners (out of 17,000 applicants) in the Angel Soft Angels in Action program and was awarded $1,000 (and a year's supply of toilet paper). That prize got me an interview on KROQ 106.7 -- we are still receiving donations from listeners -- and my sisters and I have also been featured on ABC 7 News.
We have received dozens of thank-you notes but the most memorable "thank-you" was when we took the movies into a children's playroom at a hospital and got to see how excited the patients were to sort through the movies. When we got there, we saw a poster that was waiting for us: "Thank You Kid Flicks."
Marni Barta, 15, goes to Harvard-Westlake, with her sisters Berni and Romi. Lexi is a sophomore at Northwestern University.
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15.
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