By LINDA CHION KENNEY
With a heart for giving back and a passion for dressing up, it’s no wonder that Miqaelah Grace is a member of Costumers With a Cause, driven to help nonprofits helping children by marching in community parades, bringing joyful moments of distraction to hospital-bound children and more.
“I was hooked,” said Grace, who met members of Costumers With a Cause (CWC) at the Santa Fest Parade in Tampa. “They were doing what I always wanted to do, to be in costume and help out in the community.”
Founded by T.J. McDonnell with a group of friends “one night about 13 years ago just north of Daytona Beach,” McDonnell said the group today donates “100 percent of whatever we raise whenever we raise it.” And that’s by living in the cosplay world, which entails playing a character in costume.
It’s not a stretch for McDonnell, who said as a child he loved dressing up for Halloween. Recently, he was at The Regent in Riverview with other CWC members to collect an award for Best Krewe at the Greater Brandon Fourth of July Parade, presented by the Community Roundtable. McDonnell, where McDonnell marched in costume as Captain America. Joining him were CWC members dressed as Wonder Woman, Rapunzel, Hawkeye, Miles Morales, Disney’s Moana, an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Princess Daisy from the Super Mario franchise, and the Amazing Spider-Man.
McDonnell said at age 16 his mother made him a Robin the Boy Wonder costume, in a nod to Batman and Robin. “My local priest caught wind of it and he asked me to come into church one evening in costume to talk to the kids about Halloween safety,” McDonnell said. Other gigs followed, where his training in martial arts and gymnastics led McDonnell to include physical fitness activities as well.
Giving back in such a manner, “I was hooked,” McDonnell said. Years of cosplay in the giving-back world, for children in hospice and at community events, raising awareness and funds for local grassroots organizations serving children, led to the fateful discussion that led to the formation of CWC. It’s billed as an “organization of costumers, cosplayers and photographers with big hearts and creative talents who choose to make a difference in the world.”
According to McDonnell, the 501(c)3 nonprofit has locations serving Tampa Bay, Sarasota, Orlando, Jacksonville and Chicago.
Joining him in the effort is McDonnell’s fiancé EMu Feist, who said every quarter CWC selects a charity or a cause to support with whatever donations are raised.
“A lot of our events are going to conventions,” Feist said. “Or we’ll go to movie premiers and raise money there. We go to hospitals, where it’s really cool for patients to see superheroes and princesses coming into their rooms, to see how they’re doing and hang out a bit.”
Feist has first-hand experience in that regard. As a child, her asthma caused her to be hospitalized a few times a year, “and superheroes could come in and visit me, and it was always the highlight of my day,” she said.
Wearing costumes herself since her mid-teens, Feist said she used to perform with Metrocon in Tampa, Florida’s largest anime convention. With CWC, “that’s when I learned I could wear a costume and do good, and that was a huge draw to me,”
Feist said. “I get to do something fun, and I get to help other people, as well as make friends and go to different places.
That’s really cool. It’s a great experience.”
With or without costume, people are invited to join CWC, which has room as well for support positions, such as for event and photography duties. “You don’t have to have any particular type of costume, you don’t have to have any type of real theater experience,” Grace said. “We’re pretty inclusive with people from all types of backgrounds.”
On its website, CWC displays prominently a Winston Churchill quote: “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” In a nutshell, that’s what drives Costumers With a Cause in its work to bring joy to others for and on behalf of children — and the child in us all.
“The world is never going to have enough heroes, and it feels like we need good people to step up now more than ever,” McDonnell said. “I believe every child deserves a happy childhood, and a happy childhood can lead to a happy adult, and that’s the future. We’re investing in the future.”
For more, visit https://www.facebook.com/CostumersWithACause/.