By Kate Quesada

Thirteen-year-old Natalie Santiago knows what it is like to undergo treatment for cancer and the Randal Middle School student is now doing what she can to help other children fighting the disease. This month she is collecting cozy socks, mints and comfortable pillow cases to donate to pediatric cancer patients in hospitals and treatment centers throughout the area.

According to Santiago, she got the idea for the drive after finishing her treatment for Lymphoma when she noticed that certain items made her hospital stays and chemo treatments easier.

“The socks are warm and comforting in the hospital, the mints help with nausea and bad tastes during chemo and the pillowcases brighten up the room,” said Santiago who explained that hospital workers change patient’s pillow cases every day and they don’t always have enough bright and colorful ones for each child.

This is the second year Santiago has held the drive. Items can be dropped at both Randall Middle and Colleen Bevis Elementary schools in Lithia and Santiago plans to distribute them to Tampa’s OneVoice, John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Children Cancer Center of Tampa.

“They know the best way to distribute the items to patients who need them,” said Santiago who plans to be a geneticist or radiologist when she grows up.

So far, Santiago has had a good response to the drive which she has advertised at Randall through posters, emails and with announcements on the school radio show. However, more donations are always needed and she has even bigger goals.

“My main purpose is to create awareness about pediatric cancer,” she explained. “I noticed that not a lot of people know that from the budget designated for cancer research just four percent goes to Pediatric Cancer research and I think that should definitely be more.”

For information, contact Randall Middle School at 740-3900. Items can be dropped at school, located at 16510 FishHawk Blvd. in Lithia.

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Kate Quesada is the Multimedia Manager for the Osprey Observer Newspapers. She has been working for the paper in various positions since 2005 when she graduated with her Masters degree in mass communications. She lives in Valrico with her husband Mike and son Dylan.