A Maryland teenager has overseen the donation of thousands of books to children in hospitals, to honor her father after he was diagnosed with cancer.
Emily Bhatnagar was 17 in 2021 when her dad, Mike Bhatnagar, was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer. A life-long reader, she’s always found her comfort in books, but during that time, turned that impulse outwards.
She launched a neighborhood book drive in honor of her dad, asking on NextDoor for donations of books for children and teenagers, to be donated to young people going through what her father was facing.
“I thought to myself, I’m only a teenager. What can I do? I am not a doctor. I can’t save lives, but I can hopefully make them a tiny bit brighter,” says the Maryland teenager, who lives with her parents in Gaithersburg. “I was drowning in sadness when my dad was diagnosed. Thinking of these little children going through the same thing as my dad was unimaginable.”
Calling her project “For Love and Buttercup,” she initially intended to give books to children facing cancer. But since her father’s improvement, she’s expanded it to all patients under 18.
“For Love and Buttercup” is now a nonprofit, and Emily, now 19, has inspired and coordinated the donations of more than 15,000 children’s books to hospitals in the DC/Maryland area. She has an Amazon wish list of books, and has them delivered to her family’s Gaithersburg eatery to be delivered to the hospitals.
Mike Bhatnagar has lost most of his vocal cords and speaks in a raspy whisper. He uses a tube to feed through his stomach.
He told CNN in an email that his daughter’s project has given him strength – and her a voice.
“I feel a little bit more strong each day. Emily has a lot to do with that,” he said. “I didn’t expect the impact of her book drive to be this huge. I thought it was only local and didn’t realize just how much passion Emily had for this cause.”