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Teen copes with tragedy by organizing a years-long book drive for sick children

Emily Bhatnagar, 19, has collected and donated about 15,000 books to local hospitals treating kids with cancer.

Teen copes with tragedy by organizing a years-long book drive for sick children
Cover Image Source: Instagram | forloveandbuttercup

Whether it is snowing or raining, or if you are on a vacation, or simply enjoying a weekend, a book can be a great companion at all times. Only true book lovers know a good book is the ultimate cure for loneliness. Emily Bhatnagar, a teen from Maryland, knows this very well.

"They kept me company and I became so immersed in them," she told TODAY. "It felt like I was less lonely." The 19-year-old Bhatnagar revealed that books remained a source of solace for her and have given her life a purpose. For this reason, she thought of helping others who are in need of solace or purpose. Since 2019, Bhatnagar has been organizing a book drive called "For Love and Buttercup" and has donated over 15,000 books to children who are undergoing cancer treatment. 


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

 

"I thought about how (buttercup flowers) represent everything pure and innocent and happy in the world," she said. "That's exactly what I want these kids undergoing chemo treatment to feel. I wish that so badly for them that they can still feel that innocence." This idea struck her when her family received the shocking news that her father, Mike Bhatnagar, whom she calls her best friend, was diagnosed with stage 4 thyroid cancer in 2019.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

The next year, when the world was also facing a pandemic, Bhatnagar balanced virtual school work and her shifts at Monsoon Kitchens, her family's prepared food store in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She also became a caregiver for her father. "I would tube feed him during my small breaks," she shared. "I wanted to spend more time with him just in case anything were to happen. At that point my anxiety was so bad I had to take a break from high school."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

Bhatnagar decided to take a much-needed break from high school for almost the entirety of her senior year. While battling with her anxiety, as well as depression and an eating disorder increased by the pressure of her father's diagnosis, Bhatnagar said she felt lost and even empty. It was at that time she began to think about the thousands of children who go through cancer treatment.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

"I thought, There's a child out there who's fighting the same or a similar battle as my dad," she said. "Imagine being that young and having to go through that and not understanding it fully. I thought about how terrifying that would be." At that moment, she thought of organizing a book drive for pediatric cancer patients and bringing joy into their lives. On July 11, 2021, she wrote a post on the community-centric app "Nextdoor" and asked people to donate their used books for children of all ages, from infants to teenagers.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

"I got such a huge response," she said. She and her 21-year-old brother would go around the town and pick up books. Now, she has donated almost 15,000 books to local hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area, including Children's National Hospital, Children's Inn at NIH, Holy Cross Hospital, and Inova L. J. Murphy Children's Hospital.


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by emily ayana bhatnagar (@forloveandbuttercup)


 

Bhatnagar was touched by the experience of meeting the children at the Children's Inn at NIH and she called it the "best day" of her life. "I still think about the kids I met," she said. "They're on my mind even though they're across the world now."


 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Phoebe and Joshua (@bobblejot)


 

What a great way to turn adversity into an opportunity to help others and even bring a smile to their faces!

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