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Superheroes for Hospice Interview

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Superheroes for Hospice is a great charity and the brainchild of Spiro Ballas, the volunteer coordinator for Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center. The hospice serves those in need in the New Jersey area with life ending illnesses. One of the biggest things I like about Superheroes for Hospice is that this is not just part of Spiro's job, he takes his own time to volunteer for the hospice to put on these events. He's leading by example and I think that is great. I got the chance to interview Spiro about the hospice and the program that he is coordinating.

Aaron Albert: Tell me a little bit about what the hospice does. How do they help those in need?

Spiro Ballas: Our patients are dying of a life-ending disease (cancer, heart-disease, dementia, COPD and many others). Our patients have attempted all known cures, but without success, or they made the decision not to experience the caustic side-effects of some cure-attempts that have low success rates. The focus of hospice is comfort. We strive to provide individualized care that emphasizes pain reduction and symptom management. We take a holistic approach, not only addressing physical pain, but psycho-social and spiritual pain, too. Our motivation is to help our patients live as fully as possible until they die. But not only do we worry about the patient; we also support the immediate family members caring for the patient, providing emotional support and respite opportunities.

How did you start these comic events? Why did you choose comics?

As a Volunteer Coordinator, I like having a project that I do in my free time, for the agency. As I was ending my prior project (a pair of holiday-themed CDs) I received the comic books that I had collected as a kid. My sister who was living in our family home, moved out of state. I kept some, but there were many that I didn't want anymore. And as I was thinking, "What am I going to do with these boxes?" I heard a commercial on the radio for '1-800-kars-4-kids' and that lead me to think, "If people are willing to donate cars, how about comic books?" I talked to some people in my agency whose blessing I needed, and they didn't see the harm in my trying, so I got the proverbial 'green light.' My thought was, we would solicit for donations, then host sales and convert the comics into monetary donations for my hospice. It is a circle where everyone wins: the donor gets a tax-deduction, which is usually higher than what they would get if they sold their collection to a dealer, the buyer at our events gets good comics pretty cheap, and hospice gets support in a unique and novel way.

How much money has been raised so far?

The effort started in 2009 and to date has raised just over $40,000.

How can comic fans help? Is there anything else they can do besides donate comic books?

They can come to our events and buy them!!! However, donations are cool! And, we need hands to help sort the comics. Help in spreading the word about the effort is needed too.

Why should people donate their comics and related items to Superheroes for Hospice?

Well, the way hospice is reimbursed for our service it often doesn’t match the true cost of care. Hospice receives a flat rate per day that someone is on our program. Everything that is needed to manage the care of their hospice diagnosis--medicines, equipment, and staff--often surpasses that flat rate, which is about $130 a day (it varies per state and per county). We also don't turn anyone away who qualifies for our service. Fundraising is a big part of what we do to bridge the gap in reimbursement shortfalls and to care for those with no insurance or means to pay out-of-pocket.

If a person wants to donate comic books, how do they get them to you?

Some have sent boxes of comics in by mail. Others drop-by our office during normal business hours. And, a New Jersey pick-up can be arranged for large donations (three long comic book boxes or more), or smaller, quality donations (more valuable comics/items). Our address is:

Superheroes For Hospice
c/o Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center
95 Old Short Hills Rd., West Orange, NJ 07052
Attn: Spiro Ballas
973-322-4866
SBallas@BarnabasHealth.org

What have you learned about the comic book community through this endeavor?

Though some kids attend and support our events, the average customer is older, (about 40+). Most of the people who come have been very nice. And there is a lot of diversity in regards to what people like and collect.

What keeps you motivated to keep doing these sales events?

Each show has been growing and bringing in more support for our hospice.

Tell me more about the comic events? What have you been able to do besides sell comics?

We started hosting a companion event called the "Getting Into Comics" lecture series. It is an opportunity to encourage the creation of comic book making and the hobby of comic book collecting. And we always invite area creators and sketch artists to attend and show their work.

How has the comic book community helped? Have you seen creators and others rising to support the cause? Tell me about that.

Our chief supporter is Paul Castiglia, who is an Editor at Archie Comics. Rick Parker, who is best known for his run of Bevis and Butthead on Marvel Comics, has helped at a few shows, until he moved out of the area. Some comic book stores have been instrumental in directing donors to us, as well as distributing fliers.

Where can people find out about upcoming events?

The best way is to get on my email-distribution list, by just sending me a request to be added to it: SBallas@BarnabasHealth.org. We also have a website, that is not as quick to have the latest info, but people can see we are connected to the hospice: www.BarnabasHealthHospice.org/Comic

Thanks for the time in answering these questions. Good luck!

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