Sara Stoma had few happy moments when she was battling leukemia at the age of four. But there was one bright spot in her months of chemotherapy treatments at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
“When I was in the hospital there wasn’t a lot I could choose, but I could pick any cool Band-Aid I wanted,” she told NJ Jewish News in an afterschool telephone interview on Nov. 9.
Eight years after her treatments, a cancer-free Sara presented some 900 boxes of those “cool” adhesive bandages to the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Saint Barnabas.
Sara said, “Everything is great,” as she completes her unusual tzedaka project and prepares to become bat mitzva on March 17 at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, where she lives with her parents, Meredith and Peter.
“I want all the kids who go through any type of treatment to be able to pick which band-aid they put on,” she explained last month in a fund-raising letter to potential donors.
Sara also went from class to class at Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell and made a personal pitch to students and teachers.
“I was a little nervous,” she confided, “but I was happy I did it. It was a great success. Everything came together better than I expected.”
After amassing 650 boxes, Sara and her mother went shopping for another 250 boxes with money they had collected.
“The Band-Aids are decorated with everything from pickles to sushi,” said Meredith Stoma. “It was easy for a lot of people to participate.”
“The outpouring of the response was astounding,” said Sara’s grandmother, Natalie Peck, an Essex Fells resident and treasurer of NJJN’s board of trustees. “She is giving back a bit, and that is so nice. I get goose bumps when I think about it.”
Sara’s religious-school educators were also impressed with her effort. “Sara’s mitzva project has great ‘sticking’ power,” said Agudath Israel’s educational director, Susan Werk. “It creates a fun connection with the ailing children and helps in the healing process.”
Sara also told NJJN what her advice is to other youngsters who may be facing serious illnesses.
“Everything is going to be great,” she said. “Keep it normal and your family will help you through it. I know mine did. You are not by yourself.”