2020 Difference Makers: Benny Arends

Benny Arends
Aaron Eisenhower ~ B Magazine

Editor's note: This is one of 12 Newsmakers stories in B Magazine. To read other stories about area Newsmakers, click here. And to subscribe to the print edition of B Magazine, click here.

All kids can relate to the feeling of being bored. While some whine and complain about it, Benny Arends of Jackson takes action.

At 5 years old, while participating in a fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Hospital, Arends began asking questions. He wanted to know more about the kids who lived there; what they played with, and how they spent their time. Concerned the kids were probably bored, he came up with the idea of donating toys to local hospitals. His parents helped him brainstorm the idea and named it Kids for Kids of SEMO, a large scale service project founded by children, for children.

That first year he set a goal of donating 300 toys to a local hospital. When he quickly surpassed 1,100 items, he realized he could do more. The following year he set a goal of 3,000 items to three hospitals, followed by 5,000 items to five hospitals. And he's been raising the bar ever since.

"Our family motto is to serve God by serving others," says his mom, Melinda Arends. "The kids have embraced that, so we try to help the most people possible."

At the start of 2020, at 8 years old, Arends set the highest goal yet: 7,000 items to seven local hospitals. And then a pandemic closed the hospital doors to visitors, as well as donations, leaving him with a bunch of supplies and nowhere to go. Schools closed, too, leaving lots of children (and parents) at home, to face the same original problem: boredom.

When Arends began to get bored, he imagined that other kids were, too. So, he shifted gears and started making "quarantine kits," a brown lunch sack, filled with simple toys and activities that would entertain children while they were safe at home.

After decorating the bags with positive messages and pictures of sunshine, flowers and rainbows -- you know, things that make people happy -- they would drop them off on the doorsteps of children in their neighborhood. And because he's a cool 8-year-old, with a super cool mom, these first few drop-off missions were carried out using stealth ninja moves in a method that locals like to call ding-dong-ditch.

"We would have all the doors open, and the trunk," says Benny, who laughed as he remembered ringing the doorbell and running to their car for a quick getaway.

Of course, news of the quarantine kits spread quickly and the family started delivering goody bags per request throughout Cape and Jackson. Benny also made extras to place in the food pantry locations at the schools, including Jackson's South Elementary where he will be a third-grader this coming year. While the quarantine kits have kept him busy, Arends is anxious to get back to school.

"The first and last days are usually the best days," says Arends, who is most looking forward to being back with friends and learning his favorite subjects -- math and art. Even with football, baseball, video games, riding his new scooter and "doing jumps on it," Arends admits that he still gets bored from time to time. But maybe that's just part of life. Being bored gives us time to think, and thinking can lead to a whole world full of possibilities -- like planning for the future.

During quarantine, Benny sketched out his dream house and is considering a career in country music. Though his career goals may change throughout the years, this kid is definitely going to do something amazing. In the meantime, he will continue with Kids for Kids of SEMO. When the hospitals open up, he will drop off donations at four locations. And when boredom sets in and he's already helped everyone else feel better, he will simply lay down and rest.