Children in 11 area hospitals who won't be able to be at home for the holidays will get a little something from some sixth-graders at Linthicum Elementary School: a packet of baseball cards.
Cards for Kids began about four years ago as a get-well campaign for a fellow student who was sick in the hospital during the holidays and needed cheering up, says Principal Sharyn Doyle.
It has snowballed into an annual Christmas activity that this year will find new owners for 5,000 cards.
Helping to make it all happen again is Dan Miller, owner of the Linthicum sports card store Line Drive.
Mr. Miller donated 5,000 cards this year and about 1,000 cards last year, says Art St. Martin, a physical education teacher who has taught at the school for 28 years.
Mr. Miller said he is glad to help cheer up sick children and to give something back to the community where he has been in business for three years.
"It's pretty hard for anybody, especially a kid, to be in the hospital during the holidays," says Mr. Miller, 36, of Fallston.
Originally, most of the baseball cards were collected by Mr. St. Martin and 10 members of the school's baseball club, who donated their old cards.
On weekends, Mr. St. Martin would supplement the collection by visiting local baseball card shows or flea markets and finding bargains, often picking up three packs of 25 cards each for $1 a pack.
Last week, students spent 1 1/2 hours sorting through the baseball cards from Line Drive, eliminating doubles of any one player before creating packets of 25 cards each. Then they placed the cards into protective plastic sleeves and put them into large manila envelopes to mail to the hospitals and wards in time for Christmas.
The school pays for the plastic sleeves and the $30 mailing cost, says Mrs. Doyle, who added that the children are always very excited to do the project.
"Around Christmas time a lot of people think, 'Oh, we're going to get lots of presents.' But it's really about kids like this who might not get lots of presents, so it's really nice to do this for them," said Jamie Engles, 11, of Linthicum.
The sixth-grader, who has been collecting baseball cards since he was in second grade, reckons he has 3,000 baseball cards at home.
He rattles off the names of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., Chicago White Sox first-baseman Frank Thomas, San Francisco Giant outfielder Barry Bonds and Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Jr. as favorite players.
He says Mr. Griffey, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Bonds are favorites because they are power hitters. "I really like players who can produce home runs," said Jamie, who also collects football, basketball, hockey and soccer sports cards.
He says he respects Mr. Ripken's game because he's a good player in the field and "he plays his best every game."
The youngster says baseball cards make a good gift, particularly for children who may be in traction. He figures they can still derive some pleasure from looking at the cards, as he does.
Jamie may be right.
"The gesture does land in the right spot and brings a lot of nice smiles to faces," says Kevin Murnane, a spokesman for North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie. "Anytime the child can get any kind of special gift to lift their spirits is well appreciated."
Mr. Murnane says the hospital's pediatric ward has nine children now. Some of them will be in traction during the holidays.
The children often gab about the cards with their roommates or swap and trade them in a playroom at the hospital.
Each year, the hospitals and wards send notes of thanks to the students for remembering the patients.
"I think it was good for the kids to see that we did think about the kids in the hospital," says Mr. St. Martin, 49, of Linthicum, who says he collected baseball cards as a child.
He says he thinks the Cards for Kids project makes the students "feel good about themselves."