DSCC Family Spreads Easter Joy to Hospitalized Children

April 10th, 2020

Axel Johnson smiles as he sits surrounded by hundred of wrapped Easter basket donations

The Johnson family donated 160 Easter baskets for children at Central DuPage Hospital, surpassing their goal despite the coronavirus outbreak

Andrea Stambaugh vividly recalls the disappointment she felt when her son, Axel Johnson, was in the pediatric intensive care unit on Easter weekend 2018. 

There would be no coloring eggs, Easter egg hunts, or other favorite family celebrations.

“I was feeling like a failure because I didn’t have an Easter basket beautifully wrapped and thoughtfully hidden here for Axel to see on Easter morning,” Andrea wrote on her Facebook page, “Axel’s Journey with CMV.” “Then, as the lights turned down in the hallway and it grew quiet, I heard a family in the hallway praying. Praying not for Easter baskets and a chance to color eggs, but for life.”

The moment immediately changed her perspective. Andrea vowed to offer love and support to such families who can’t be home making memories with their children.

A Happy Easter card with the Dr. Seuss quote, "Kid, you'll move mountains."
Each of the donated Easter baskets from the Johnson family includes an uplifting card.

For the last two years, the Johnsons have collected donations to fill Easter baskets for hospitalized children. Despite unexpected challenges from the coronavirus outbreak, the family surpassed this year’s goal and delivered 160 Easter baskets to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

“We know the burden and the mom guilt that people feel when they can’t provide their kid a proper holiday. We know that that’s a lot of stress and a lot of burden and frankly, the families are dealing with a lot of other things if they’re in the hospital,” Andrea said. “They shouldn’t have to feel that pressure, so we’re here to make sure that’s relieved from them and that they can focus on healing for their child.”

Axel is 3 years old and a participant in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children program.

After his Easter hospitalization, Andrea researched information from other organizations who coordinate Easter basket donations. She put together a list of suggested items, including coloring books, puzzles, dolls and action figures. She then asked her page followers for donations.

The Johnsons hoped to collect enough items for 25 baskets for Easter 2019. Donations far exceeded this goal. A team of volunteers helped them put together a total of 125 baskets for children at multiple Chicago-area hospitals.

This year, the Johnsons aimed to donate 150 baskets. They set up an Amazon wish list for Easter basket items, and donations started to pour in. But challenges soon arose as the coronavirus outbreak escalated. For safety reasons, two hospitals could no longer accept donations for patients.

Central DuPage Hospital could accept the baskets if the Johnsons followed strict safety precautions.

“We have an immunocompromised child, so we know about the importance of keeping the children and the families safe during this time,” Andrea said.

Axel poses with the 160 Easter baskets his family donated for pediatric patients at Central DuPage Hospital.
Axel poses with the 160 Easter baskets his family donated for pediatric patients at Central DuPage Hospital.

Every Easter basket item was purchased new and cleaned with bleach spray or a sanitizing wipe. Andrea and her partner, Adam Johnson, wore gloves and masks while sorting the items and wrapping the baskets with cellophane and personalized notes.

Due to the pandemic’s social distancing requirements, Andrea and Adam spent 16 hours packaging 160 baskets without their usual team of volunteers.

Last weekend, they delivered the baskets to Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield to be ready for patients on Easter Sunday.

“It makes our hearts really happy every year when we get to see the finished product and all of the kids that will be blessed this Easter,” Andrea said.

The family is also already planning to provide baskets to more hospitals next Easter.

For more information about their project and Axel’s condition, visit Axel’s Journey with CMV” on Facebook.