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Emily Ayana Bhatnagar | Maryland | Determined

Community Leader | Changemaker

Hi, I'm Emily Ayana Bhatnagar, from Gaithersburg, Maryland. I hope you're doing well! On my 16th birthday, my world was turned upside down when my father received a stage four thyroid cancer diagnosis. Determined to channel my anxiety into something positive, I started a book drive for kids with cancer.

Working tirelessly, I've managed to collect close to 15,000 books, a journey that has been recognized by The Washington Post, Good Morning America, and many other platforms. My family's small bread shop in Gaithersburg has been a crucial support, and I often use tips I earn there to afford most of the books. Generous donations through my Amazon Wishlist have also played a significant role.

Dealing with my father's illness and navigating my own health struggles, including depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, I found solace in books throughout my life. As a child of immigrants from India, books were my companions during recess and lunch, providing comfort and company.

In the summer, as my father's health stabilized, I decided to start collecting books for children of all ages, aiming to distribute them to health-care facilities across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The response exceeded my expectations, with over 7,000 books collected since July.

Initially called "For Love and Buttercup," the book drive was intended for pediatric cancer patients but expanded to benefit children in various health-care institutions due to the overwhelming support from my community. The joy of collecting and donating books, coupled with the therapeutic effect it has had on me, is the best thing ever.

In October, my father and I, having overcome his emergency tracheotomy, rented a U-Haul and delivered 2,215 books, along with handwritten notes and handcrafted bookmarks, to Children’s National Hospital in D.C. The impact of these books on young patients undergoing continuous care has been heartwarming.

Beyond hospitals, I've donated books to an under-resourced Baltimore elementary school and have plans to deliver books and handwritten cards to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. This journey has not only brought joy to others but has given me a profound sense of purpose. My health has improved, and so has my father's; he finds immense joy in the impact of my project.

I'm running a bit low on book donations, and I was hoping to get the word out so I can donate more before my summer classes start. If you're interested in covering my story, that would be amazing! Thank you so much for your support.

Social Media Handles:

Instgram: @forloveandbuttercup

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