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Teen finds a way to cope with anxiety: Donating books to needy kids

Emily Bhatnagar, 17, with some of the thousands of children's books she has collected and donated to health care facilities in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (Courtesy of Emily Bhatnagar)

A Maryland teenager whose dad was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer found a way to aid her anxiety over the situation: She gathered hundreds of books to donate to children in need. You can donate books too!

Gaithersburg TV station WUSA9 followed her story, part of which you can read here. Brielle Ashford writes: Growing up as a shy kid, Quince Orchard High School senior Emily Bhatnagar remembers fondly how her dad would take off work and arrive at her elementary school with her favorite foods in tow, just to be sure she had someone to eat with at lunch. “He was always there,” she said.

The diagnosis was a crushing blow to the entire family, which includes her older brother and mother. The family of four all pitch in to run an Indian bread and meals to-go shop called Monsoon Kitchens in Gaithersburg. It's a manifestation of her mother and father’s love for cooking.

Along with the added responsibility, the sheer stress of her father’s illness was almost too difficult to bear. Emily began to struggle with intense anxiety and an eating disorder, forcing her to take months off school -- all of this, while doing her best to help care for her father as best as she could.

Emily found comfort in something she had loved since childhood - losing herself in a wonderful book, where the stories come to life and the characters become fixtures in your memories. And just as her dad began to make a miraculous recovery, she knew how to help so many others who hadn’t yet heard the doctors say the words “cancer-free.”

“When I realized a lot of young children are struggling with the same or similar battles as my dad was facing, undergoing chemo or radiation . . . books always made me happy, so I supposed that books would also make them happy as well,” she said.

Emily first took to the localized social media app Nextdoor to ask neighbors if anyone had a few old books to spare for children in need. “I was expecting like maybe one or two responses,” she said. “But there were hundreds.” Now, she has an Amazon wish list with books people can mail directly to her to get donated. To date, her largest haul was to patients at Children’s National Hospital where she dropped off 2,215 books in October. She has already given out a little under 5,000 books, as well as homemade bookmarks and handwritten letters to the young patients. For the rest of the story, click here:

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