Millstone siblings Drew and Heather Paglia cannot wait to use a portion of the funds raised by their recently launched non-profit foundation to provide a nice meal for a large gathering of the New Jersey Emergency Medical Service Task Force.
The snag there, however, is that the NJEMSTF also cannot wait.
This all-volunteer team of more than 200 EMS providers has been so busy and so widely dispersed throughout the state in response to the coronavirus and other recent developments, members have not been able to gather together en masse to revel for a few hours in the Paglia’s generosity, made possible by donations received through their 5Help.org.
But that will not stop these two determined teens from continuing in their efforts to express gratitude to these brave front-liners with some nourishment and, ultimately, with something even more valuable to the Task Force than a few tasty meals. Namely, personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Their work with the Task Force started two weeks ago, but because they’re so busy (the NJEMSTF), it’s been hard to find a group that’s together right now for a period of time,” said Cindy Paglia, the mother of 16-year-old Drew and 13-year-old Heather. ”When the Task Force gets called, they need to activate.”
Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like Drew and Heather, who activated themselves March 24 by launching a GoFundMe page that satisfied the dual function of supporting local small businesses in and around their Monmouth County community as well as providing snacks and meals for medical personnel in area hospitals, senior care facilities and to others in need.
Since then, Drew and Heather have been juggling their remote schoolwork with this volunteer endeavor that is occupying some seven or eight hours of time each day as they collect donations, identify recipients, coordinate delivery and send personal notes of thanks to every donor – whether it was $5 (hence, 5Help), $100 or more.
Soon, the NJEMSTF may have to send one or two medics to treat the Paglia kids for hand cramps. Since March 24, 5Help.org has received just over $26,000 from 800 donors.
And yet still personal notes.
“It takes a good chunk of the day and it can be a lot sometimes, but that’s okay,” Drew said. “Our hearts are so big we won’t stop. Just helping other people is what makes us continue.”
Drew and Heather Paglia pose with N.J. EMS Task Force members outside the Monmouth County EMS mobile command center.Courtesy the Paglia family.
There is joy in helping all who can benefit from their foundation, the siblings say, but a special dose of satisfaction when it is directed to first responders. Particularly to those – such as the NJEMSTF members – who invest their time and expertise and also risk their own well-being with no monetary compensation.
“It makes me feel great to help people who are helping other people,” Heather said. “We didn’t realize how grateful they were going to be. That made us feel great.”
Even though the NJEMSTF has not been able to enjoy the work of 5Help.org just yet, every member appreciates the care, the time and the sweat equity being expended by the Paglia kids.
“Drew and Heather are simply amazing. They noticed a problem, they reacted and they created a system that makes it easy for others to help,” said Mike Bascom, president of the Task Force. “We’re proud of them and excited to partner with them in raising funds to help men and women who are responding to emergencies throughout the state and around the clock.”
Drew and Heather recognized that need in the first days of our statewide lockdown; schools were closed (as of March 13) and non-essential businesses forced to cease operation. And even though food establishments could no longer offer dine-in options, at least some could stay afloat by offering pickup and delivery service.
So, with their initial Double Power Donations program, Heather and Drew could bolster local business and feed hospital staff all at once. They started the GoFundMe Page, quickly raised several thousand dollars, and provided meals (then gift cards for meals) to such facilities as Centrastate Medical Center in Freehold, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in both New Brunswick and Rahway, and St. Peter’s Medical Center in New Brunswick.
“The idea was the make the donations work to help more than just one,” Cindy Paglia said. “It stated as a local effort trying to support small businesses. They would make food donations to the hospitals; that was the first point of contact.”
The siblings project was off to a modest start and then gained appreciable momentum when the two were featured with host Steve Doocy on a segment of Fox & Friends on April 8. Donations began pouring in from all parts of the country, which was great.
Problem was that GoFundMe provided limited payment options and also revealed no contact information about the donor to Drew and Heather. How could they personally thank these people?
With startup funding from their parents (Andy is the dad), the dynamic Paglia duo created 5Help.org as an official nonprofit and filed for 501c3 status, which is pending. That makes all current donations to their site tax deductible. And now payments can be made with credit card, PayPal, Venmo or even by check.
Aside from creating their own far-reaching nonprofit while under stay-at-home orders and still responsible for math and English assignments, Heather and Drew are pretty typical teenagers.
Heather, a student at the Hun School in Princeton, enjoys playing basketball, tennis and lacross