When she was 13, she lost her friend to leukemia. Now, she’s honoring the girl’s legacy in the most touching way.

Reilly Cardella, creator of Love for Ladybug nonprofit organization. (Reilly Cardella.)

In 2020, when the global COVID-19 pandemic had spread and people were hunkered down, we all likely thought about things we could do to keep busy or entertain ourselves. That was no different for Reilly Cardella.

Cardella, however, went beyond baking projects or growing a garden, and instead set her sights on something much bigger: a nonprofit for children battling cancer.

To understand where that desire came from, you’d have to know what happened earlier in her life that gave her a reason to be passionate about childhood cancer.

Meeting and losing Kassie

Cardella, who is now 22 and resides in Central Florida, met Kassie Wingerd when they were young girls.

During their friendship, Cardella learned that Kassie had leukemia.

The girls were very close for two years, and then, “She passed away in 2011. I was 13,” Cardella said.

The death left a mark on Cardella.

“I’m 22 now, and I always thought that I wanted to honor her legacy in some way,” she said.

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Love for Ladybug

When the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Cardella thought it was the perfect time to look into how to create a nonprofit.

“Ladybug was the nickname that (Kassie’s) parents called her,” said Cardella, so that’s what she went with: Love for Ladybug. “For Kassie’s family and friends, it was symbol of hope and positive light that’s always with them.”

Cardella’s goal from the beginning has been to provide care packages to kids with cancer while also raising money for pediatric cancer research and spreading #PositivityForPediatricCancer.

Numbers released in 2019 show that less than 4% of cancer research funding goes to childhood cancer research, according to Coalition against Childhood Cancer.

“We host fundraisers throughout the year,” Cardella said. “All of them have been virtual. The first one I did, I dressed up as Elsa and I took pictures and read.”

The first event raked in $428 for the nonprofit, but there have been many other virtual fundraisers to follow that have raised more.

“All of that goes to research (and) creating packages,” Cardella said.

Cardella’s nonprofit doesn’t hit its year anniversary until May, but she said she’s already distributed dozens of care packages for children going through chemo.

“I made all of our social media, followed other nonprofits in Central Florida and all around the world,” she said.

Meeting Angela

Through social media followers, Cardella met Angela, who lives in the Philippines.

During September, the nonprofit was working to send care packages to kids with cancer for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“Angela direct messaged us and told us her story,” Cardella said in 2020: “’I’m Angela, I’m 14, I’m fighting alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.’”

Angela was in stage 4 of ARMS, a shorter term for the cancer that most often occurs in large muscles of the trunk, arms and legs, according to the American Cancer Society. But Angela’s cancer was also fighting her skeletal muscle.

Cardella said Angela was staying at the House of Hope, similar to the Ronald McDonald House, and would be staying there through the New Year, away from her family.

“‘I would really love a package,’” Cardella said Angela requested in her message.

It turns out that Angela had reached out to several nonprofit organizations who said it would cost too much to send her a package.

“When she direct messaged me, I thought it was really important to send her package,” Cardella said. “How could I say no to that? She told me all of her interests, we got a care package that equaled out to $200 in crafts (and) toys, and we partnered with another nonprofit to get her two wigs.”

Though all of the care packages Cardella sends have $200 worth of items in them, Angela’s was going to cost $300 more just to send. Through donations, Love for Ladybug made it happen.

Cardella said it took about two months to get the package to Angela, due to shipping backups during COVID-19. When she finally received it, Angela took a video of herself opening the package and sent it straight to Cardella.

“Her face just completely lit up,” Cardella said. “I can’t imagine staying at a kids hospital and constantly (being) surrounded by other sick kids and doctors. The fact that we can send a package to her and it makes her life, it means so much.”

Looking ahead

Cardella says Love for Ladybug has been fortunate for the donations it has received, and that it has been able to spread the #PositivityForPediatricCancer message through care packages and research.

Cardella continues on her mission and hopes it can continue to grow so that more children can benefit.

“Kassie reminds me every day to take a step back and enjoy the simple things in life,” Cardella posted on Instagram. “This is why sending care packages to kids is so important. It’s the excitement of receiving a ‘mystery’ package meant just for you. It’s the excitement of opening a box and revealing all of your favorite toys, crafts and activities. It’s the thought of knowing other people are thinking about you during your cancer journey and want to make you smile. It’s a quick glimpse of positive emotions you deserve when you’re going through something traumatic as cancer.”

You can learn more or donate to Love for Ladybug by clicking or tapping here.

Watch the video below to learn more about Cardella’s journey to create Love for Ladybug.

About the Author:

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.