The most recent bulk donation to the Child Life Program at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola came from an unexpected source.
The nonprofit has a playroom in the hospital’s pediatric center, where children can hug a stuffed animal, do an arts-and-crafts activity or celebrate a birthday. The goal is to alleviate the fear that many children face in a hospital setting, explained Child Life’s director, Nicole Almeida. That’s why, she said, it was a pleasant surprise when a $300 donation of toys and arts-and-crafts supplies came from a 7-year-old girl from East Meadow.
Emma Vulpi, who celebrated her birthday on Dec. 16, asked only for money so she could decide how she wanted to spend it. Then the idea came to her.
“It’s amazing that someone of her age realizes how fortunate she is and what she could do to inspire other kids,” Almeida said. “Our whole program depends on financial support, toys or monetary donations. We rely on people like Emma.”
Emma’s mother, Michele Vulpi, said she was just as surprised by her daughter’s birthday wish. “We say she’s 7 going on 16,” she said.
Emma and her family went on a shopping spree on Feb. 16, stopping at stores like A.C. Moore, Target and Walmart. Three days later, they donated 10 bags of toys to Winthrop, and Emma visited the hospital to see where her gifts went.
“If only Santa could see me,” she said. “Too bad he’s on break.”
The Herald recently spoke with Emma about what inspired her to make her donation. Part of the inspiration, she said, came from a program in the elementary schools in East Meadow called Pennies for Patients. Through the fundraiser, students set aside a few coins a day for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In addition to raising money for blood cancer patients, a second goal of the drive is to introduce children to the concept of charity.
As she chatted, Emma sat on her couch, iPhone in hand, and began browsing YouTube. She searched for “kids with cancer,” which brought up a series of videos from the channels of nonprofits like the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
Each was a short documentary about a child with cancer, and one of them featured a cheerleader and leukemia patient named Victoria Enmon who “wasn’t afraid of heights,” her mother, Jo Ellen, said in the video. “In fact, she wasn’t really afraid of anything.”
Other videos are more graphic, however, Emma said, and include medical procedures or posthumous stories of children who didn’t survive their illnesses. “A lot of my friends don’t like these,” she said. “Their moms won’t let them watch them, and they get freaked out when they do. I’m the only one who doesn’t.”
She doesn’t get scared, she explained, because stories like Victoria’s inspire her. “When she has a question about it, she knows she could ask me,” her mother said. “And she has. She talks to me about everything.”
“Even the Momo challenge!” Emma added, referring to a recent hoax that led some parents to believe that children were involved in a deadly online game.
She said she was also inspired by her aunt, who is an office manager at Village Pediatrics in Garden City. When she visits her, “I get to go behind the desk and eat candy,” Emma said. “Sometimes I get to help the nurses, too.”
She explained that the nurses have taught her some of their most-often-used medical procedures, such as testing for strep with a throat swab. Asked if she wants to be a nurse when she grows up, she said, “I want to be just like my aunt.”
Emma and her mother said they plan to make a tradition of her act of charity, donating her future birthday and holiday gifts. “If it wasn’t for me and all the other donations, the playroom wouldn’t be there,” she said. “It would just be a boring hospital.”