Everyday hero promotes reading -- with a mask and cape

John Kalish takes superhero approach to getting books in the hands of kids

ORLANDO, Fla. – Like any good superhero, John Kalish has a day job. 

As Director of Logistics and Aftermarket for Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, he's responsible for finding buyers for surplus items that can't be sold through normal retail channels. 

For years one of those items were children's books. 

"At Goodwill we get thousands of books donated every month," Kalish says. "Children will read a book once, twice and the parent will donate it. So these books are basically new."

In fact, a visit to the Goodwill warehouse reveals a wall of boxes stacked six foot high. Each one filled with about 100 books each. They're all waiting for volunteers to clean and sort them.

"In years past they just sat and sat and sat," Kalish says. "Now we've found an outlet, a way to get them out to the kids."

That outlet is called Bookworks, a program designed to get gently used books into the hands of underprivileged kids.

Abby Clark, Fund Development Manager for Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, says the program is a way to give back to the community. "Volunteers sort them by reading level. We then take them to different title one schools, we'll go to community events, we work with a Gift for Teaching." 

It's usually pretty straight froward. Kids get to pick out a book or two and leave excited to read them. 

That was until Kalish brought a different kind of excitement to the events.        

"I do it myself as Batman," Kalish says from his corner cubicle inside the Goodwill offices on Orange Blossom Trail. His desk decorated with Batman photos, action figures and posters. "I call this the Bat Cave," he says, pointing to a shelf covered in memorabilia. 

The decorations a nod to his own nonprofit. 

Kalish started the  A Hero For Kids Foundation last year. The nonprofit invites police officers, firefighters and veterans to help hand out books in partnership with Goodwill's Bookworks program.

For his part, Kalish wears a Batman outfit.

"The reaction of the kids says it all," Kalish says. "If I hand a kid a book as John the Director at Goodwill kids go ' dude gave me a book.' Batman hands them a book it means something to them. They take the book home and some of them keep it for years." 

News 6 was there as Kalish handed books out at Pineloch Elementary's open house. 

Kalish stays in character as parents take photos and kids smile and stare. "I would do this every day," he says. "It's phenomenal. When they see Batman they just love it."     

A Hero for Kids foundation also provides school supplies, backpacks and hygiene items a special events around Central Florida.

Clark says Goodwill is always looking for volunteers to help clean and sort the donated books. If you would like to help visit the Goodwill website or call 407-235-1571.    

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