It was just a sticker book, but Sophia Megan says it sparked her to help thousands of sick children

Sophia Megan was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, at the age of two. She beat it, but says that she never forgot the kindness of a hospital custodian, whose small act sparked a passion in her to help other children in hospital.

Small kindness inspires creation of charity to send love boxes to children in hospital

Sophia Megan says a small act of kindness to her when she was fighting childhood cancer sparked a project that now delivers thousands of love boxes to children and teens in hospital. (Submitted by the Megan family)

Sophia Megan was only two years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Now she's a 12-year-old cancer survivor and creator of the Super Sophia Project, which aims to offer comfort and hope to other children in hospital.

Sophia, of Pickering, Ont., says an experience she had as she fought cancer inspired her.

She was being treated at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto when a custodian gave her a sticker book.

"It just made me so happy and gave me so much joy even though it's such a little thing," she told CBC.

Sophia was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells and one of the most common cancers in children younger than 15. She beat it, but never forgot the custodian's kindness. 

Remembering how she felt receiving that small gift made her want to do the same for others. The idea evolved into a plan to collect donations of clothing, stuffed animals, games and other small items to help brighten life for others facing long hospital stays.

Sophia, of Pickering, Ont., was two when she was diagnosed with leukemia. She is now 12 and has been free of cancer for eight years. (Submitted by the Megan family)

Sophia started the project in 2016. With help from her family and volunteers, she has filled 30,000 love boxes packed with donated toys, clothes and messages of hope that are given to children in hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, Durham Region and in some northern parts of Canada. This year, she hopes the project will deliver another 5,000 boxes to hospitals.

"[It's for] all kids in hospitals who are sick or just in there for surgery or anything," Sophia told CBC's Heather Hiscox.

"There's so much love in the boxes." 

The love-based project helps counter a tragic loss. Sophia lost her own father — Jim Megan — in 2019. He was diagnosed with cancer and died that same year, at the age of 48.

Each year, the Megans collect donations to help fill the boxes that volunteers help deliver in winter.

Volunteer Suzie Traikos Leung helps load up love boxes heading to hospitals. She gives her energy to this charity because it's small — and she sees her work doing good.

Volunteers load hundres of love boxes for delivery to Toronto-area hospitals as part the Super Sophia Project. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

"This is the only charity that I'm involved in," said Traikos Leung. "This goes from you to the child and you see the impact. It's incredible."

Shipments of hundreds of the colourful boxes headed out to dozens of hospitals this week. Staff — like Morgan Livingstone — welcome the deliveries and describe what it's like to watch a sick kid light up when they get to open a love box full of activities and treasures.

"The reaction is just pure magic, seeing the joy on their faces after they've been stuck in bed not feeling well. To open the box, to look at all the incredible toys and activities in there, it really provides normalization in an abnormal environment," said Livingstone, a certified child life specialist who works at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

More than 30,000 love boxes have been delivered to children in hospitals since Sophia started her charity project in 2016. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Sophia said she gets notes from families who receive the boxes who are grateful for the teddy bears, treats and hopeful thoughts inside.

"I just want everyone to be kind to everyone and spread as much love as they can. It's so wonderful that people are like, hey, I filled the box and now I'm in the hospital getting one. So it just goes full circle. It's really nice," she said.

The custodian who gave Sophia the sticker book that inspired her is still in her thoughts. Now that she is strong and eight years free of cancer, she said she sometimes wonders where he is, as he appears to have retired. She hopes to thank him one day.

"I am not sure he has any idea how much of an impact he made to this charity." 

Sophia and her father, Jim Megan. He died in 2019 of cancer. (Submitted by the Megan Family)

With files from Meagan Fitzpatrick