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Spreading Hope Through Pages: Teen Emily Bhatnagar’s Book Drive Brings Comfort to Sick Children

In the face of personal adversity, one remarkable teenager has discovered a powerful way to alleviate her own anxiety and despair while simultaneously bringing solace to others. Emily Bhatnagar, a 19-year-old high school senior from Maryland, found refuge in books during her father’s battle with Stage 4 thyroid cancer and her own mental health struggles. Now, she has taken her love for literature and transformed it into a heartwarming initiative called “For Love and Buttercup.” Through this book drive, Bhatnagar has collected an astonishing 15,000+ books to distribute to children in healthcare facilities across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Her compassionate endeavor has not only had a profound impact on the young patients she seeks to help but has also provided her with a sense of purpose and healing.

As a child of Indian immigrants, Bhatnagar often felt a sense of not belonging, but books became her constant companions and sources of cheer during challenging times. Inspired by her own experiences, she decided to channel her anxiety and worries into something positive, hoping to provide an escape for others facing difficult circumstances. Starting with a humble post on the Nextdoor neighborhood network, Bhatnagar was overwhelmed by the incredible response from her community. The outpouring of support led to an abundance of donated books and a journey of spreading joy and hope to those who need it most.

She’s been recognized by The Washington Post, Good Morning America, ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC Nightly, Fox, Southern Living Magazine, TIME For Kids Magazine, BUST Magazine, NowThis News, TODAY, ABC Nightline, Inside Edition, The President’s Volunteer Service Award, Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and a few other celebrities. She affords most books by using tips she earns from working at her parents’ small bread shop, but a large portion of them also come from generous donations through her Amazon Wishlist.

With her heartfelt handwritten notes and handcrafted bookmarks, Bhatnagar has brought smiles to countless young faces. Not only has this initiative positively impacted the lives of the children receiving the books, but it has also transformed Bhatnagar’s own journey, providing her with a sense of fulfillment and a renewed voice. Through the power of books, she has found healing, purpose, and a way to spread hope, one page at a time.

Let’s find out more about this amazing teen in her Q&A with TWWK!

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Photos: Anne Calamuci

Hello Emily, nice to e-meet you! Before we get into your amazing book drive, tell us a little bit about yourself and what makes you tick!

Hi hi! Thank you for having me! My name is Emily Bhatnagar and I am nineteen years old. I’m from a small town named Gaithersburg, Maryland…but I secretly just like to tell people I’m from DC because it sounds cooler. I’ve always been a bookworm, which led me to begin my own initiative: For Love & Buttercup.

Okay, now tell us what led you to create this book drive.

Unfortunately, my father was diagnosed with stage four thyroid cancer when I was a sophomore in high school. It was the most heartbreaking event I’ve lived through. I just couldn’t accept it and move on—I had to do something. It wasn’t fair that while I could go to school and sit down with my friends at lunch, there was a child my own age who was suffering with a disease that took so much away from them. Soon after, I made it my mission to help children going through cancer treatment.

How is your father doing now?

That’s so sweet of you to ask! He’s okay. He lost 75% of his vocal chords to cancer, but he still makes it a point to use that 25% left to tell me to stop eating food on my bed haha! He is the strongest, and funniest, person I know.

How can people get involved?

The easiest way is through my Instagram, @forloveandbuttercup. The link to my Amazon Wishlist is in my Instagram bio! You can also DM me if you have any used books you would like to donate. I am so grateful for every donation, no matter how small. 

In addition to your father’s illness, you were also quite sick yourself with mental health issues—including an eating disorder which led to hospitalization. You could have easily become another statistic, but you didn’t. If you could credit ONE main thing which helped you pull yourself out of that, what would it be?

Honestly, I would say my love for my dad. When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I had reached a very dark point in my life where I didn’t care enough to seek help for myself. I was okay if I didn’t ever get help. I only wanted to get better for my dad. I always tell myself, “If not for yourself, do it for someone you love.” And when I did begin to recover and nourish my body, I showered myself with all this love I refused to let my body feel before. I felt light for the first time. That’s when I wanted to get better for me, too.

What has been your number one, ALL-TIME FAVORITE moment in this book drive journey so far?

There have been so many! I would have to say meeting a child who received one of my books for the very first time. We were at The Children’s Inn filming for NBC Nightly, and it was the most precious moment of my life. The little boy’s name was Diego, and I still find myself thinking about him from time to time. Even though he didn’t speak English, it was a really emotional moment for me to see firsthand how two people, with two completely different ages and backgrounds, can come together and connect simply because of their love for stories.

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And the most challenging?

I would have to say the entirety of my job. It’s so fulfilling and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else in the world. I truly feel like I’ve found my dream job. But at the same time, it’s painful to witness and speak about a disease like cancer so frequently.

Okay now for some more light-hearted questions. First, I love Indian Food—what’s your favorite food from your culture?

Oh my, there are too many to choose from! My mom owns an Indian takeout shop, so it’s Indian for dinner nearly every night in my family. I would have to say samosas, but I only eat the crust. My favorite staple Indian junk food is Maggi!

Who are your role models and inspirations?

My dad is the most incredible human being I know. He is truly my other half and my biggest inspiration. My entire family is so precious to me. My mom is the most hardworking woman I know and combined with my dad’s imagination and my brother’s sensitivity, I can only hope to be half of everything they are. I’m also very inspired by Taylor Swift. I’m a huge Swiftie!

If you could make one wild invention that was sure to work, what would it be and why?

That’s such a good question! I would have to say a machine that lets you talk to people who have passed, sort of like a hologram. Like you know in Star Wars? That is honestly the best way I can describe it!

If we asked your friends what your best quality is, what would they say?

They would probably say my empathy. I feel things so deeply to the point I’m crying over hurt baby deers on the side of the road.

And your worst?

Patience. Slow texters are my absolute biggest pet peeve.

Favorite snack?

Goldfish!

Favorite city (and why)?

Okay, my brother is going to be so mad at my answer for this. It’s Paris, but I’ve never been before. I just think it’s so dreamy and romantic and filled with so much culture. I’ve been in love with Paris since I was little. My brother’s always like, “How can you like a place you’ve never even been to?!”

Tell me something people would be surprised to know about you.

I had a Shawn Mendes fan account when I was in middle school. I still occasionally use it to lurk.

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Tell me ONE food you REFUSE to eat and why?

Capers. They’re absolutely horrendous and I refuse to believe anyone actually enjoys them.

What else are you working on or have coming up next?

I’m currently working on expanding For Love & Buttercup and…writing my own book! That’s all I can say right now, but I’m super excited. I’m also getting more into fashion work.

Could we get a quick selfie of whatever you are doing right now?

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Haha! Honestly…currently sobbing over Xo, Kitty on Netflix. A high school rom-com REALLY shouldn’t be having this much of an effect on me. 

https://instagram.com/forloveandbuttercup

HER AMAZON WISH LIST: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2RO4Z1P1VD6MU

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