Charleston student receives year of free ice cream

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
Willow Herrera raised money to buy toys for kids at Arkansas Children's Northwest.

Baskin-Robbins is recognizing a Charleston fifth-grader for her charity work by giving her a year of free ice cream and donating $5,000 to an organization of her choice. 

Willow Herrera, 11, raised about $1,300 to buy toys for kids at Arkansas Children's Northwest. She dropped the toys off Dec. 11, just in time for Christmas, said Erica Phillips, the director of volunteer engagement for the Arkansas Children’s system. 

For that work, Baskin-Robbins named her a Pint-Sized Hero as part of a program the company is doing to recognize children who are making a difference in their communities during the pandemic, said Haley Silvers, a senior associate at RF|Binder, Baskin-Robbins' public relations agency. 

Herrera requested that the company donate $5,000 to the Memorial Hermann Children's Hospital in Houston, according to Nick Christy, an associate of RF|Binder. 

Herrera chose that hospital because she underwent surgery there last October. 

“I was thinking since they've done so much for me that I would give some back," Herrera said. 

That was the same mentality Herrera had when she decided to raise money for Arkansas Children's Northwest. 

She had saved the money she got from selling jam and decided to use that with her Christmas and birthday money to start a fundraiser for the kids at Children's. 

“Honestly if we get stuff then we should probably give other people stuff because some people don't have all the stuff that we have," Herrera said. 

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

The burgeoning philanthropist 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,” Willow said. 

She hopes to continue raising money throughout the coming years.

Representatives with Baskin-Robbins went through dozens of submissions before deciding to pick Herrera for the award, Silvers said. 

“It’s really cool because I would never have thought that I would ever get an award for something like that," Willow added. 

The company launched the program in May of 2020 and has been honoring kids working in their communities about every other month, Silvers said. 

Part of what made Baskin-Robbins representatives pick Willow was that she chose to help other people enjoy their holidays with money she received on her birthday and Christmas. 

“We were in awe of everything that she has done," Silvers said. 

The representatives also thought Willow was a good fit because of her work experimenting with different flavors with her jams, which is similar to what Baskin-Robbins does with its ice creams, Silvers said. 

“Well it started as something I just did for fun," Willow said. 

She learned how to make jam at her local 4-H. Then she started using other recipes, even making pumpkin and watermelon jams. The watermelon jam is her favorite. 

Eventually, she got so good at making jams that people started telling her that she should sell them. 

Tahnee Bowen, the counselor for the Charleston Middle School, said Willow 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 Willow showed great initiative in completing her project. 

It’s impressive that Willow 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.