Sarah and Mark Johnston, of West Chester Twp., founded and launched Free Throws for Kids. The annual event is held each spring, with teams of four to 10 people collectively shoot 500 free throws at Lakota West High School. Money raised helps families with children in local hospitals. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided

Free Throws for Kids: West Chester couple’s efforts help families

The West Chester Twp. couple founded Free Throws for Kids, an annual event held each spring where teams of four to 10 people collectively shoot 500 free throws at Lakota West High School.

“With the money raised, we are able to show hope and love by doing two very special and unique things,” Mark Johnston said.

The first, he said, is providing care bags that include gift cards for gas and food as well as toiletries and books to more than 800 families at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Dayton Children’s Hospital.

“Secondly, we will continue paying $1,500 each month for the Ronald McDonald House salad bar food,” he said. “Each weekday, over 80 families now have a healthier eating option because of the Free Throws for Kids salad bar and ongoing food donation.”

FTFK raised $42,255 in 2014, $109,008 in 2015, $123,674 in 2016, and $147,949 earlier this month, Johnston said.

This year, 74 teams consisting of 600 free throw shooters participated in the event, topping last years 59 teams consisting of 475 free throw shooters.

For the Johnstons, the event has become an important part of their lives.

“We’ve heard over and over how helpful and touching the FTFK bags are for the kids and families at the hospital and how amazing it is for the Ronald McDonald House to have the salad bar each day for the 2,004 families that stay there each year,” Mark Johnston said.

“Bringing the community together for such a great reason and seeing everyone’s passion for our mission is humbling,” he said.

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Interested in having a team at next year’s event? You can email

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The FTFK committee works “incredibly hard” to ensure the event is successful each year, according to Mark Johnston.

January through April is the busiest time, and it takes “quite a lot of coordination” for each of the four bag deliveries each year, he said. That’s 200 bags per delivery, four times per year.

“Each year things get more efficient, and as more people continue to hear about our mission, we continue to gain more support,” Mark Johnston said. “It’s all worth it because we know hundreds of kids and families each year will have a smile on their face and feel the love we are sharing.”

FTFK, he said, is “further than non-profit.”

“The money raised goes directly to the cause,” Johnston said. “We don’t have paid staff. Everyone — 100 percent — volunteers their time and efforts. This is one of the reasons people donate so generously to our mission. They know exactly where the money goes.”

In addition, the majority of items for the event are also donated, including T-shirts, prizes, food, a trailer to store and haul all 25 portable basketball hoops and more.

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