After his collection reached nearly 80,000 last summer, avid baseball card collector Jerry Milburn decided to give away some of his stash.
His goal: Donate a million cards to charity, something he originally thought would take more than a decade.
Until others decided to pitch in.
“I said it’d be cool to donate a million,” Milburn said. “At the rate I was (collecting), I figured it’d take 10, 15 years.”
“Then they started sending them … and it’s blown up into this.”
The “this” Milburn refers to is the spread of cards taking over his kitchen table. Boxes are piled near the back door. There are binders of them in his living room. And boxes are stacked to the ceiling in a spare bedroom he calls the “card room.”
But the cards don’t belong to Milburn, who lives in Lawrenceburg and works in Frankfort for the Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Water.
They’re all for Commons 4 Kids, the organization he started last August that has allowed him to donate more than 400,000 cards to charities and youth organizations.
When Milburn would buy a pack of baseball cards, he estimated he’d keep about 10 percent – the “good cards” – then throw the other 90 percent – “the commons” – on a shelf in the closet.
Commons 4 Kids began as a way to get those commons off his shelf and into the hands of kids, Milburn said.
“Back when we were kids, we would trade cards, but it doesn’t really work like that anymore,” he said, explaining that card trading has become more of something collectors do on eBay than kids do as a hobby.
“So I could stack (the cards I have) in a closet, let them sit there forever, or I could just send them all out.”
Now his goal is to donate a million cards in a year.
So far, he’s on track.
In addition to the more than 400,000 cards he’s already given away since August, Milburn says he’s got about 350,000 cards in his stack of donations at home, waiting to be sorted and donated.
He just has to find a charity he hasn’t been to yet.
In the past several months, he’s donated to more than a dozen organizations, including Stewart Home School, Simon House, Franklin County Women’s Shelter and Ronald McDonald houses in Louisville and Lexington.
But Commons 4 Kids really took off after he donated to Sunrise Children’s Services, an organization that treats abused and neglected children, in Danville.
Danville’s Advocate Messenger ran a story on that donation in January, and the Associated Press picked it up. Then USA Today reprinted the story, and soon Milburn was getting donations from across the nation.
“I had people calling my mom’s house, looking for me,” he said. “I had people sending me cards from Boston, Michigan, Texas, everywhere.”
What started out as a hobby turned into a second job for Milburn as the donations kept pouring in.
“First I was just doing it on weekends, now I do it (sort, pick-up and/or deliver cards) pretty much every night, a couple hours a night, and all day on Saturday,” he said.
“And it hasn’t stopped.”
He was especially busy these past few months preparing for his biggest donation yet. On Saturday, he donated 165,000 cards to the Anderson County Little Leaguers at the league’s opening day ceremonies, with each kid getting a bag of 200 cards.
The collector packed the bags himself, making sure each bag got a selection of “good cards,” like rookie cards, jersey cards that include a piece of the player’s jersey, and Michael Jordan cards that Milburn says are worth about $5 each.
After Milburn started receiving so many donations, he made a policy that any card he found worth more than $25, he’d call the donor to let them know what they gave up.
“We’re not trying to rip anyone off,” he said.
But sometimes, the donors voluntarily give away their good cards. Recently, someone donated a box that included cards from 1973 for Pete Rose and Hank Aaron. Milburn says on his website they’re worth $30-$50.
Those cards were part of the 165,000 Milburn gave to the Little Leaguers Saturday.
Sometimes, “common cards” can be just as valuable as the Hank Aaron and Pete Rose cards.
New York Knicks basketball player Jeremy Lin’s card was considered nearly worthless until he started playing well and “Linsanity” drove up the value.
“We call them commons, but you just never know what’s going to happen,” Milburn said. “I mean, the (Jeremy Lin) card was $5, and a week later was $1,500.”
And Commons 4 Kids isn’t only a Kentucky thing. Milburn got calls from people in Maryland, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York who wanted to donate their cards but didn’t have a practical or cost-effective way to get their boxes to Kentucky.
That’s when Milburn created Commons 4 Kids affiliates for people who live outside of Kentucky but want to participate. The affiliates get a Commons 4 Kids email address and collect, sort and donate cards to charities in their communities.
“What I thought was going to take 10 years is taking about seven months,” he said.
“People are more generous than I thought they would be.”
For information on how to donate or to learn more about Commons 4 Kids, visit commons4kids.org.