High school student, aspiring physician, collects donations for family shelter

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Monica Thomas may only be 16 years old, but she found a way to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Seeing how COVID has affected people from, like, all different backgrounds, I decided to start this fundraiser because, when people get evicted and lose their jobs, they become more vulnerable to the virus and they're less protected because they don't have, like, the basic needs," the Sicklerville, New Jersey, native said.

In a normal year, Monica would be busy leading the student body as Timber Creek Regional High School's president of the class of 2022. She might also be scoring points on the tennis court, where she is team captain. However, the COVID-19 pandemic affected her in more ways than one.

Monica lives in a family of front-line workers. Her parents are physician assistants while her sister works in the intensive care unit. She's heard many horror stories this year, including two of her own family members who have lost their lives to the virus.

"They're out there working every day to try to combat the virus," Monica said about her family. "So, I just wanted to put myself out there and do something."

Monica aspires to become a physician as an adult. While that future is many years away, she decided to start this fundraiser to help during this critical moment in time.

She started local, calling friends, family and businesses to donate toiletries and personal care products. Monica also partnered with Christian Meditation Center, an organization that promotes peace and spiritual counseling based in Williamstown, New Jersey.

"We welcomed the opportunity to support her in any way she needed us to do so," said Teresa Yerkes, the founder of Christian Meditation Center. "We are called as Christians to love our neighbors and this is an excellent way to do that."

Through their partnership, they collected more than $1,000 worth of monetary donations and hygiene products. Today, Monica donated many of those goods to the Volunteers of America Anna Sample Complex, a family shelter in Camden, New Jersey.

The shelter paused their admissions for the first few months of the pandemic. However, they reopened during June 2020. An increase in sanitization and health consciousness has created additional expenses.

"When we're able to offset those costs with the donations from someone like Monica, it really does help us keep our program stable and hopefully to continue to grow," said Alexis Degan, Director of Philanthropy with Volunteers of America Delaware Valley.

Monica's fundraiser continues until March 1st, but hopes to expand and extend it by including the entire Black Horse Pike Regional School District. To contribute, visit the donation webpage and navigate to COVID relief.

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