Anne-Marye Hoban had never considered collecting ChapSticks a form of philanthropy until her niece was hospitalized with leukemia.

Turns out that many children like to apply the sweet-smelling lip balm to the masks that go over their noses when doctors administer anesthesia and medications, she said. It takes the edge off the bitter odors.

So Hoban sent out an alert on Facebook and e-mail, asking for donations of ChapSticks -- preferably in offbeat flavors -- to help children battling leukemia.

Within a few months, 3,500 ChapSticks were piled up in her home. Two weeks ago, she donated most to Children's Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis, where her 6-year-old niece, Annika Linberg, had undergone a bone marrow transplant.

"It was crazy, all the people who wanted to help,'' said Hoban, who owns an insurance agency in Waubun, Minn. "I would get anonymous boxes of ChapStick in the mail. All they would say is, "Hope this helps.''

Several churches in Duluth, where Linberg lives, took up the cause, Hoban said. So did a local chapter of the National Honor Society. And everyone followed Hogan's request to find the most unusual flavors.

"There was hot fudge sundae, chocolate chip cookie, Mountain Dew, cherry coke, caramel apple, Tootsie Pop ... the list goes on and on,'' she said.

Annika was able to help distribute the ChapSticks at Children's, said her mother, Adrienne Linberg.

It made her feel good inside and helped the other children see there was light at the end of their journey.

"It was a special moment for Annika,'' Linberg said.

Hogan was surprised that the humble ChapStick was such a hot item among young leukemia patients. But then she started thinking about the medical procedures they endure, such as chemotherapy, bone marrow biopsies and surgeries.

"Being in the hospital is hard anyway,'' she said. "But when you're a kid and you're there for up to 100 days, it can be really long.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511