How one local student’s charity is spreading love across the nation

Though there isn’t a book called “How to Run a Charity and Go to High School at the Same Time,” Helias Catholic High School senior Olivia Hennon could easily write one. As president and founder of Little Box of Sunshine, Hennon, 18, is successfully doing just that. And what many once knew as her small volunteer effort has expanded by leaps and bounds into a thriving organization that honors its original inspiration, Margaret Romph.

While Hennon says she has always loved being a community volunteer, the inspiration for Little Box of Sunshine was very close to Hennon’s heart. When Margaret, her close friend, was hospitalized for 67 days in the summer of 2016, Hennon noticed that, for many children, the hospital was an unnerving and lonely place.

Little Box of Sunshine delivers a ray of light to hospitalized children in the form of boxes filled with toys, games, stuffed animals, pillow cases, and fun socks. Each item is carefully selected and purchased by Hennon, who tries to appeal to a wide range of interests and ages. A card, lovingly made and donated by another child, also accompanies each box. Since its inception in 2016, Little Box of Sunshine has eased the stress of hospital stays by delivering over 1,500 boxes to children in 21 hospitals across 17 states.

“While visiting Margaret in the hospital, I was inspired to help make the hospital a little less scary,” Hennon says. “I thought I would do a little service project and it would probably be over before Christmas.”

But, more than three years later, Little Box of Sunshine is growing and thriving. After selling T-shirts to fund her first delivery, Hennon says she knew she wanted to continue the important work of spreading joy to sick kids.

“After our first delivery, I formed a 10-person board of directors,”  Hennon says. “I realized I was going to need help with the financial portion and setting up the tax exempt organization, so I asked a local CPA for her help completing the process.”

Hennon is still at the helm of Little Box of Sunshine as president of the board of directors, and other board members include Hennon’s father and vice president Doug Hennon; Hennon’s mother and co-treasurer Lisa Hennon; secretary Julie Maschmann; co-treasurer Carson Schroer; Linda Harvey; Margaret’s mother, Sherline Romph; Maureen Quinn; Addison Schroer; and Tina Jenkins. 

“Founding an organization has totally changed my life,” Hennon says. “I have taken on responsibilities that many high school students don’t have. I spend my free time organizing fundraisers and drafting board meeting agendas. Although it has made my life a little more crazy and stressful, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Little Box of Sunshine hosts two annual fundraisers — the 5K Walk, Run & Roll and Purses for a Purpose — in addition to relying on private donations for support. On April 18, 2020, Little Box of Sunshine will hold its fourth annual Walk, Run & Roll. Last year’s raised $2,500 as it welcomed athletes and supporters of all abilities, from walkers and runners to those who use wheelchairs, to participate in a scenic 5K. 

“Both of my parents have been runners, and it seemed like a good way to raise money and get all kinds of community members involved,” Hennon says. 

Purses for a Purpose will raise funds through a silent and live auction of handbags, wallets, wristlets, crossbody bags, and experiences. The second auction, held this past November, raised just over $12,000 for Little Box of Sunshine.

Hennon says one of her favorite things about Little Box of Sunshine is the ease with which other young people can become involved. Even young children can participate by donating handmade cards to accompany each box.

“Most of our volunteers at fundraising events and box assemblies are high school or grade school students from our area,” Hennon says. “Any time I need help getting something done quickly, I know I can count on the Jefferson City community to help me get the job done. Little Box of Sunshine would not be possible without the support I have received from my friends, family, school, and the entire community.”

As Hennon prepares to head to the University of Missouri next fall, where she plans to major in elementary education, she says she’s excited about Little Box of Sunshine’s bright future. In addition to widening the organization’s impact and reach, her efforts are also a comforting way to remember her dear friend Margaret, who passed away in May 2019.

“Margaret’s passing hit us all hard,” Hennon says. “I find comfort knowing that I’m helping keep Margaret’s spirit alive through Little Box of Sunshine.”

That spirit also helps keep Hennon motivated. “When life gets crazy and I get caught up in event planning and organizing and paperwork, it would be easy to just throw in the towel,” she says. “But every time it gets crazy, someone comes to me or sends me a message letting me know how much their hospitalized child loved their Little Box of Sunshine. That simple message is the only reminder I need to keep raising money to help these sweet kiddos.”