About a month ago, on a Friday around 5 p.m., I was getting ready to leave for the weekend when my boss came to my desk. She asked if I could help move books in the basement. There was a sewage leak that had already destroyed a whole bookshelf full of brand new picture books, and the plumber was worried about flooding. I spent the next 75 minutes helping to move books and bookshelves.
On Monday morning, I had a big problem to fix: how were we going to replace hundreds of picture books within the month? I didn’t want to blast our email list and social media audiences because we had just participated in an annual, city-wide nonprofits fundraising competition. I did not want to deplete our resources by asking for more help, so I had to find another solution.
We needed the books for our end-of-year giveaway when every student in our free tutoring program gets the opportunity to choose two brand new books to keep. I work at a nonprofit focused on childhood literacy in a city where only a third of the students in the public school system read at grade level. All of our students struggle with reading, and most of them come from under-served communities: 87% of our families are low-income, and 83% are African American or Latino.
The giveaway, though it only happens three times a year, is a big deal. It’s a reward for the students who have been working so hard, and it’s also a way for us to build their home libraries. Research shows that having books in a child’s home has a substantial positive effect on educational achievement.
I spent about two and a half weeks stressing out, grasping at straws, and trying to reach publishers who could help. One of our volunteer tutors overheard a staff member discussing the problem. This tutor is a reporter for a local paper. Within 24 hours she had visited and interviewed us, taken some photos, and posted a beautiful article online. Twelve hours later, offers to help came flooding in.
The weeks since then have been a whirlwind. Dozens of individuals, organizations, and businesses reached out to help, and for two days, I couldn’t get through more than 3-4 emails without tearing up. Suddenly, I was receiving emails from Vice Presidents of book publishers who, just a day prior, I had no way of reaching.
Everyone from the Yale Library system to a local Starbucks ran book drives for us. Donations to replace the books poured in, which allowed us to support our local bookstores. A former tutor and a YA author paired up to email blast their literary circles and shared our Amazon Wish List far and wide. The packages came in, each one a delightful surprise, gifted to us from as far afield as Canada and London. It’s been nothing short of a miracle, and by my count, we’ve received over 2000 new books in the last few weeks.
I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the leak—we lost four bookshelves in addition to the books—but this giveaway, my fourth since joining New Haven Reads, has been my favorite by far. We received so many of our students’ favorite books: Fly Guy, Elephant & Piggie, graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier, Pete the Cat, books with characters of color, superheroes, Legos, Ninjago—books the students love, but usually don’t have access to when they’re not here. When they received their books, you would think, by some of their reactions, that we’d given them the world.
To learn more about New Haven Reads, please visit their web page.