Heather Paglia, 14, of Millstone Township, New Jersey, an eighth-grader at The Hun School of Princeton, has helped to raise more than $150,000 to support small businesses, frontline workers, senior citizens and others impacted by COVID-19, and has worked to collect more than 6,000 pounds of food and personal care items for people in need since March 2020. When many local restaurants and other businesses were forced to shut down last spring because of the pandemic, Heather was “shocked at what we were hearing on the news,” she said. “We knew that our local businesses were hurting.” She also worried about older people isolated from their loved ones, and about the risks to frontline workers. Heather and her brother, Drew, decided to solicit donations on behalf of these and other groups struggling with the pandemic through their website, where they requested contributions of just $5.
After promoting their initiative through social media and local news outlets, the Paglia siblings got a huge boost with an interview on a national network. Donations began pouring in from all across the country and the siblings created their nonprofit, the 5Help Foundation. In addition to directing these contributions to frontline healthcare workers, small businesses and senior citizens, Heather and her brother have supported and organized a wide range of efforts to feed the hungry and rescue animals, and to assist young people with disabilities, veterans with PTSD, and families dealing with cancer. The pair has also also collected and distributed nearly 1,000 gifts and handmade cards for senior citizens, thousands of toys and clothes for kids and families over the holidays and 3,300 pairs of shoes for people in need overseas, in addition to creating volunteer opportunities that helped students earn service hours from home.