Ebensburg boy with cerebral palsy finds happiness through card collecting

Local Sports

CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — We are all dealt different decks, but we are all chasing happiness.

Jeffrey Flanders is a 14-year-old Central Cambria student living in Ebensburg. His mother Kim Flanders grew up on the plot next door before settling into a new homestead with her husband Jeff. The couple has two children: Jeffrey and his younger sister Victoria. She is in the third grade.

Jeffrey has cerebral palsy. He has spent his life in a wheelchair. He was born 15 weeks premature, weighing only one pound and seven ounces. His communication is mostly non-verbal and he speaks through a computer.

Photo Courtesy: Kim Flanders
Jeffrey was born prematurely after just 25 weeks. As you can see, he has been a Steelers fan for life.
Jeffrey uses a “Dynovox device” to communicate. He can touch the symbols on the screen which sounds off phrases or words over the speakers.

Sharing is caring

Imagine being a 14-year-old boy stuck in the house thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It might be time to pick up a hobby.

Kim thought about getting Jeffrey involved in card collecting. After all, it is a hobby suited for her son. He is a sports fan and the cards could work as a communication exercise.

There was a problem. She could not find any trading cards in stores. There is an entire industry built on buying trading cards and reselling them online. Many times, buying cards online can be too expensive.

Kim stumbled across Midwest Box Breaks on Twitter. As a marketing tool, this company posts a sharing thread twice a month.

The company calls it “LiSiGi” which stands for Love it, Share it, Grow it. It is a social media space used to share trading cards for free. It is a chance to thin out your stack of duplicates and allow others to get started in the hobby.

“I posted a picture of Jeffrey. I said ‘New Collector here – if anyone has any Steelers doubles.’ That was all that I put. My phone just started dinging – dinging like crazy,” Flanders said.

Kim said she received about 200 messages on that first day – all from strangers ready to gift Jeffrey with cards from their collections.

No one expected what happened next.

Meet the team

We caught up with four people across the country who played a role in getting cards to Jeffrey. There were many more.

  • Ben Smith is the man behind Midwest Box Breaks based in Fort Wayne, Ind.
  • Aaron Meyers lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. He is the Vice President of Operations for a small publishing company.
  • Mike Jones lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He is an avid Kansas City Chiefs fans. He was hoping for a second-straight Super Bowl win, but we all saw what happened in the big game.
  • Jon Thorn works in information technology (IT) in New Jersey. Like many other people in the card collecting hobby, he started as a youngster and found his way back to the hobby as an adult.
Aaron Meyers (Top Left); Mike Jones (Top Right); Ben Smith (Bottom Left); Jon Thorn (Bottom Right)

Meyers, Jones, and Thorn ran across Kim’s post on the Midwest Box Breaks Twitter thread. All three of them sent Jeffrey trading cards including some of his favorite players like JuJu Smith-Schuster. Jones event sent Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire cards from his beloved Chiefs.

“I just thought to myself, this post is going to go big,” Jones said.

“From that one post, it just went crazy. They just shared it, shared it, and shared it,” Flanders said.

Boxes and boxes

About four days after Kim shared a picture of Jeffrey on social media, the packages started to arrive.

In about three weeks since the post, the Flanders family would have close to 200 packages dropped off at their home. The postal service would leave large plastic bins to contain the volume of mail – all full of trading cards.

Sorting through the mail would be a tall task. Boxes cover the table and couches in the family’s living room. You will find enough written notes addressed to Jeffrey to cover the kitchen table.

Kim would be overwhelmed with the number of packages sent to her son. She went back to where it all started and posted a tearful message to Twitter:

Kim Flanders is brought to tears after strangers from all over sent her son trading cards.

“It would be tough to find someone who watched that video and wasn’t touched or moved by that,” Smith said.

People would send other gifts to Jeffrey including binders and cardholders to organize the new collection.

“People will probably see that he has enough now so we probably won’t get any more,” Flanders said. “Well, then they said ‘Hey family, you know what to do! This guy needs supplies!'”

Acts of Kindness

Jeffrey’s first two cards featured former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw along with former Pittsburgh and Penn State running back Franco Harris.

But our story is not about a collection of laminated paper or the athletes whose images sit on that paper. This story is about finding happiness wherever you can.

Strangers found happiness by sending gifts to a boy in Ebensburg.

Jeffrey found happiness through many acts of kindness.

We asked Smith, Meyers, Jones, and Thorn to share a video message with Jeffrey – as if he was meeting some of the people who sent him cards:

Meyers, Thorn, Jones and Smith all played a role in getting cards to Jeffrey. Here they share a message with the 14-year-old from Ebensburg.
Jeffrey responds to his new card collector friends after hearing the messages they had for him.

“There are not-so-nice people around, but, for the most part, people are nice. They are helpful. They want to do nice things,” Flanders said.

You will find a family in Ebensburg surrounded by images of sports stars.

Each one is a symbol of hope for humanity.

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