Cherry Hill friends Isabelle Berger and Anjali Soni had a vision for helping kids going through chemotherapy that they showed their parents in 2020: comfort kits.
The idea was inspired by a number of things – their desire to make a difference and help kids who are isolated, their shared interest in health care and a close family friend of Soni’s who was undergoing chemotherapy.
“I saw the detrimental side effects (chemotherapy) had on (her mom’s friend) emotionally, so we gave her a little gift with honey and a candle, and it really showed her people were thinking about her and she wasn’t alone,” said 15-year-old Soni. “So when Isabelle and I were thinking of ideas of how to help, it just connected for me.”
The two have known each other since sixth grade and have created Comfort Kits for Chemo Care, an organization that provides activity kits for kids and teenagers undergoing chemo at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
They chose CHOP because of the high number of kids and teenagers who receive treatment there, and because the hospital accepts some of the more advanced, long-term cases.
In the year following their presentation, Soni and Berger got to work on making their goal come true. Fourteen-year-old Berger, inspired by her love of dogs, began selling homemade dog treats to raise funds.
“When we were first planning initial fundraising ideas, we wanted to do something unique,” Berger recalled. “So bake sales, lemonade stands – those were all out because those were all one-time things.
“We wanted something that wasn’t a one-time thing,” she added, “but we wanted something that not a lot of people have done before.”
Berger eventually decided on dog treats. What began as small packs of a few flavors grew into five flavors, 10 sizes and a nut-free treat. In August 2021, the pair were able to make their first donation, sending 50 to 75 comfort kits to the hospital.
“We got an email back from (CHOP) and the kits were a huge hit!” Soni noted. “So that kind of inspired us to want to do more.”
“We will definitely try to hit our goal of giving kits to every kid there,” Berger added.
The following month, Soni made her pitch to the owners of Nothing Bundt Cake in Cherry Hill for a job there. She was 14 years old and had no work experience, but explained that 100 percent of her income would go to her cause. Owners Jessica and Steve Boese said yes and have been very supportive.
“I love going to work every day,” Soni enthused. “It’s been one of the highlights of my year, besides Comfort Kits for Chemo Care.”
Soni attributed her desire to give back to her mom, Sujata, who instilled the importance of giving when her daughter was 3 and asked her friends to donate to SmileTrain rather than giving her a gift. After seeing how their contributions could make a difference, Soni was encouraged to continue searching for ways to make an impact.
Less than two years after the friends gave their presentation, Comfort Kits for Chemo Care has become an official nonprofit with pending 501(c)3 status. The girls have corporate sponsors and have partnered with area businesses to hold fundraisers. The next one is on March 20 at Ava’s Closet Boutique in Cherry Hill. Soni and Berger will be there from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. selling dog treats.
“I think something Isabelle and I have both learned is that there’s so much suffering in this world, but there’s also so much opportunity,” Soni said. “There are so many ways to get involved, like donating to different charities.”
“Obviously donating and helping others doesn’t have to be starting a whole organization,” Berger added.
Soni and Berger are currently freshmen at Cherry Hill East, both involved with Future Doctors of America, among other clubs. Soni hopes to study oncology and Berger neuroscience. They also want to send kits for all kids at the hospital and help others make a difference.
To learn more about Comfort Kits for Chemo Care, visit the website at comfortkits4chemocare.com. Inquiries can be directed to email@example.com.