W.T. Chipman sixth grader provides aid during pandemic

Cheryl Best Wells, left, the manager of The Shepherd Place shelter in Dover, accepted two shopping carts full of donations from Natalie Cuccinello, an 11-year-old from Frederica, on Dec. 18. (Submitted photo/Joe Cuccinello)

DOVER — When Natalie Cuccinello, an 11-year-old from Frederica, first thought about trying to help out those who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, she thought about raising funds for a local animal shelter because of her love for animals.

However, the shelter was closed due to the coronavirus.

So, her father, Joe Cuccinello, implored her to do some research on other nonprofits in the area to decide which one she would try to help out.

She eventually decided on The Shepherd Place, at 1362 S. Governors Ave. in Dover, which is a shelter that provides housing, case management, food and other basic needs at no cost to those who need them.

“I first really wanted to donate to the animal shelter, but they weren’t open because of COVID,” Natalie said. “So that got me thinking about other places I could donate. Then, my dad showed me The Shepherd Place, so that is where I decided to donate. It helps kids — and I’m a kid — and it’s for families.”

Natalie, a sixth grader at W.T. Chipman Middle School in Harrington, started a collection drive for supplies and Christmas toys for children in early October and managed to fill up two large shopping carts full of goods that she and her dad delivered to The Shepherd Place on Dec. 18.

“My favorite part was when we got (to The Shepherd Place),” she said. “The woman who was working brought out one shopping cart for us to put all of our stuff in. When my dad opened the trunk and she saw how much stuff was in there, she said, ‘We’re probably going to need another cart,’ and we had two carts full.”

Her father, Joe, and mother, Deanna Cuccinello, both said they were very proud that their daughter was so selfless and conscious about reaching out and trying to alleviate the worries of others during the pandemic.

“This is something that she completely came up with on her own,” Mr. Cuccinello said. “She said that she wanted to do this for animals, and when that kind of got shot down — I do a lot of fundraising for different organizations I’m involved with — I started telling her about different organizations and one of them was The Shepherd Place.

“I told her to research them all, and she actually did the research herself and then came back and said to me, ‘I want to do The Shepherd Place because it assists families, and it can help young kids’ — and she liked the idea of being able to provide Christmas gifts for the children.”

The Cuccinellos accepted donations of all kinds.

“We collected everything from Christmas gifts to toiletries to household cleaning products … just all sorts of stuff,” Mr. Cuccinello said.

The Shepherd Place averages nearly 500 clients a year, about half of which are children. The reasons they come through are varied and include domestic violence, substance abuse and personal tragedy, such as a fire.

The case-management services offered are client-specific. The shelter says it is always looking for other options, as well as donations, to expand its efforts to help those in need.

Natalie’s collection drive was a busy, but productive, effort for the sixth grader.

“We made three videos on Facebook,” she said. “We found the (needed-goods) list of what The Shepherd Place wanted, and then, I copied that on Word, and I printed it out, and we made a link to it on Facebook, and I made videos asking for donations.”

She said she received five or six large donations that she gave to the shelter — and for the most part, she kept her project to herself.

“I don’t think I actually told any of my friends,” she said. “Now, I am hoping that we can do something for Easter, too.”

Cheryl Best Wells, manager of The Shepherd Place, was touched at the generosity of such a young person.

“I thought that was very generous, and it was a wonderful thing for her to do,” Ms. Wells said of the donation. “It was really nice, especially during the holidays, that she took the time out to help us. It was great that she showed that much incentive to reach out to help us out. We really appreciate it.”