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Barbara Casados, creator of Kiss The Toad Creations, in her Danville, Calif., home with her 2-year-old son Colton, who is wearing his own special cape (even though he doesn't have a life-threatening illness) on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. The business is a nonprofit that makes super-hero capes for children with life-threatening illnesses. The idea for the company came from Casados' own experience working with her 6-year-old autistic son, Maddox. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

DANVILLE -- Barbara Casados' cape-crusading organization began as a simple bargaining chip for her autistic son.

The Danville mom told him he could wear his superhero cape over his clothes as long as he let her dress him. Soon he became the envy of his classmates, and Casados began making them for friends and selling them around the San Ramon Valley.

But when a friend requested a donation of the capes and presented her with a list of 67 sick children, Casados had a hard time deciding which ones with illnesses such as neuroblastoma should receive them.

"For two days I just was in complete tears," she said. "How could I just pick one or two children when all of them needed it and all of them needed it now?"

Over the past few years, Casados' Kiss the Toad Creations -- the nonprofit organization she created in 2008 after the original donation request -- has outfitted more than 500 children suffering from life-threatening illnesses with superhero capes ranging from Batman to Hello Kitty.

Casados doesn't consider herself a master seamstress by any means. She doesn't do buttons or dresses. She just makes capes because she said she knows that when children put capes on, they feel they have extra superhero powers.

"It's amazing to see these kids transformed," the mother of three boys said. "I love it."

Casados and a team of volunteers -- some even dress as superheroes themselves -- occasionally hand-deliver the capes during two-hour "Superhero Celebrations" that have taken place at locales including the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford Medical Center and at UC San Francisco's Family House.

Kim Lind, a Danville-based photographer who volunteers to document the parties for Kiss the Toad, said they are a lot of fun to shoot because the children can set aside their difficulties for a time and have fun.

"Sure, some of them don't have hair and some of them are going through major treatments, but there's a lot of joy in the families that are there," she said.

Along with Kim Lind Photography, Casados counts on many other local businesses and groups as part of her "Lily Pad League" to keep Kiss the Toad Creations going with financial and in-kind donations.

Earlier this month, the Danville branch of the Community Bank of the Bay partnered with Valley Parent Preschool for an adopt-a-teddy bear program that generated more than $1,000 for Casados' venture.

"I just thought it was such a great organization," said Margie Perry, senior vice president and branch manager.

For the students at Valley Parent Preschool, the fundraiser was particularly meaningful to the children because they know firsthand how special the capes are, as they frequently dress up in the ones Casados donated to the school, Director Sarah Bradford said.

"We really wanted it to be a tangible thing for our students," she said.

Until recently, Casados crafted all the capes herself, often sewing around the clock. After a feature on her organization aired on NBC's "Bay Area Proud," a couple of women volunteered to help sew the double-sided creations.

Casados said she hopes the increased exposure and support will help the organization expand her mission to reach all 50 states. Superhero celebrations are already slated for Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

"I want it to be as good as it can get," she said. "I am riding the wave and taking it as far as I can. My goal is to reach as many children as I can and give them the superhero cape they deserve."

cape crusaders
For more information. visit www.
kissthetoadcreations.com.