Lemonade, cookies, caring, determination: Teen raises thousands for charity
[Oct 11, 2021: Sam Stroozas]
Olivia Ohlson-Ellis has been running lemonade stands since 2017 to raise funds for NorthShore’s Kellogg Cancer Center after her mom received treatment there for breast cancer. (CREDIT: Gini Ohlson)
Olivia Ohlson-Ellis isn’t quite the typical 14-year-old. She just finished the season playing golf at Evanston Township High School, she writes for the student newspaper and she’s in the Black Student Union and a lot of clubs – but she’s also raised about $20,000 for charitable causes and she’s being featured in a book and had a song written about her.
Olivia was 10 when her mom, Gini, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Olivia began raising money to support breast cancer patients by opening a lemonade stand. Over the last few years, she has had four stands, each selling lemonade and cookies baked using a family recipe. The stands have raised about $12,000.
While Olivia was raising funds for NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center patients, she was thinking a lot about her mom, and what breast cancer patients and survivors need – complete support. “It was really about providing a support system or financial backing for women who were going through breast cancer treatment,” she said.
The money she raised went to care, rent and other necessities so patients could focus on their health rather than watching bills pile up.
Then, as COVID-19 was reaching its peak, Olivia took on another problem: period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products. She initially planned to distribute free tampons and pads, but after discussions with community members and those in need, she decided to expand her idea and provide personal hygiene kits.
What is in the kits varies based on what Olivia and her family buys and what is donated. At first, they had a box outside their house where people could donate items like unused products from hotels or trips. She’s also collected nearly $9,000 to fund the kits.
Each kit has a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap and deodorant.
Based on needs, some kits also include tissues, hair ties, masks, razors, shaving cream, lotion, sunscreen and menstrual products.
“With taxation on menstrual products, these kits are needed,” Olivia said.
She’s worked with local organizations and churches to distribute the kits as well as with the My Block, My Hood, My City nonprofit in Chicago.
Singer/songwriter Jenn Hartmann Luck and author Stacy C. Bauer have taken note of Olivia’s charitable efforts. She inspired their recent projects – a song and children’s book.
“Lemonade,” released Sept. 10, is part of a collection of songs by Luck based on young activists. (Some of the proceeds from downloads of the recording benefit the Kellogg Cancer Center.) Bauer chose Olivia’s story to be in the seventh book of an upcoming children’s series about kids who make a difference in their communities.
Olivia, whose mother is now cancer-free, also won the Future of Evanston Award at the Evanston MashUp on Sept. 18. And her dedication and passion for aiding others continues.
“I started doing this all for women like my mom, to help them,” she said, “and I want to keep helping more people in the future.”
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