Charleston's Willow Herrera gives big to Arkansas Children's Northwest hospital

Alex Gladden
Arkansas Children's logo

A Charleston fifth grader raised $1,300 for kids staying at Arkansas Children’s Northwest over the holidays. 

Willow Herrera, 10, used the $1,300 to buy toys for the children and dropped them off Dec. 11. Herrera’s donation was part of a statewide event that collected $319,401 in toys and money, said Erica Phillips, the director of volunteer engagement for the Arkansas Children’s system. 

The Festival of Stars is a yearly fundraiser for the hospital that encourages people to donate to the kids at Children’s. The money goes to toys and events for the patients. 

“Arkansans were very, very generous this year,” Phillips said. 

Dec. 11 marked the 18th year for the Festival of Stars. Last year the event raised $274,160, Phillips said. 

Herrera started raising money in February. She said she didn’t know what to do with her birthday and Christmas money and decided to donate to Children’s because she had several surgeries at the hospital when she was younger.

“So I know the feeling of having to be in the hospital around Christmas time,” Herrera said. 

Herrera said her mom put up a GoFundMe page in September, and by the end of the month she’d reached her goal. 

Herrera said she was inspired to raise the money after her grandfather saw an empty Toys for Tots box at a restaurant and decided to fill up the box. 

“And that inspired me to do what I’m doing,” Herrera said. 

She hopes to continue raising money throughout the coming years. 

Phillips said the toys that Willow donated will be given to children for Christmas but also throughout the year for birthdays and end-of-treatment parties. 

“That’s going to create so many happy memories for patients at the hospital throughout the holidays and as I mentioned year round,” Phillips said. 

Donations like Herrera’s were particularly important this year because Children’s closed all its drop off sites except those at the two main hospitals. 

“We just wanted to make sure we were doing all that we could to keep everybody safe,” Phillips said. 

Tahnee Bowen, the counselor for the Charleston Middle School, said Herrera serves as a good example to the other kids. 

“It’s just wonderful — makes our hearts soar,” Bowen said. She continued, “to just know we have students who care so much.” 

Bowen said Herrera showed great initiative in completing her project. 

It’s impressive that Herrera is able to take the times she struggled staying at Children’s and “and make it brighter for someone else,” Bowen said. 

“That takes a lot of grit,” Bowen said. 

Giving is something that’s ingrained in Charleston’s students, Bowen said. 

“It’s deeply rooted in these kids to give as a whole,” Bowen said. 

In November, the kids participate in a canned food drive, and in December the schools work with the community and area churches to buy presents for families who can’t afford them. 

The families are also given Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and each family member gets a coat, pair of shoes, outfit and underclothes as needed.