I recently learned of three community programs that take donations of "gently read books" and put them into the hands of children and adults who might otherwise lack books altogether.
The Hands Across the Water program, a Massachusetts non-profit established in 2001 collects used books and ships them to Third World countries. Their twin goals are to promote conservation and reuse principles in the US (by donating the books instead of throwing them away) and to promote literacy and education globally. Books are collected primarily through self-service book drop locations at schools, libraries, and other civic locations. Monetary donations are used to fund the distribution of the books - all of the organization's volunteers are unpaid. The program is based in southern New England, but has extended to Georgia and Washington State. You can read more about this program at the Hands Across the Water website, or in this excellent news article by Sarah Wolfe from the Stoneham Sun.
I learned about another Massachusetts program from an article in the Concord Journal. The Nashoba Brooks book drive was started by two 8-year-old girls "who wanted to share their books with other children...Three years and 7,500 books later, the annual Nashoba Brooks book drive continues to be led by Katie Benvenuti, now a sixth-grader and Elizabeth Stasior, a fifth-grader; the girls have since been joined in their collection leadership by Elizabeth's twin siblings, Allie and Jon." The books were initially donated to Lowell, MA public schools, to help stock classrooms and libraries. "This year, with close to 1,900 gently-used books donated by Nashoba families, the drive expands its reach to schools in Dorchester, Revere and Natick through BookPALS, Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools." I think it's wonderful that two eight-year-olds started a program like the Nashoba Brooks book drive, to help other kids to have access to good books.
BookPALS is a volunteer literacy program. "Professional actors visit public elementary schools in local neighborhoods to read aloud to children every week. The world of literacy and literature is then opened to these children by the very people who can make books come alive through their talent and training." Their website includes 13 downloadable videos of well-known actors reading classic books aloud (thanks to a Verizon grant), recommended read-alouds, a calendar of events, and a teacher resources section. This program is more focused on reading and generating excitement about books than on the distribution of actual books, but it seems to me that in our celebrity culture, the more professional actors who encourage reading and the love of books, the better.
The bottom line is that if you have gently used books, especially children's books, that you don't need anymore, you might consider donating them to a program that will put them into the hands of people who might otherwise lack books altogether. I donate my used books to my local library, the Santa Clara City Library, where the Foundation and Friends organization sells the books, so that the money can be used to fund library programs. I know other people who donate their books to Goodwill. People in southern New England are donating their books to Hands Across the Water. All are worthy choices, as are many other programs. And all of them beat having the books mildew in boxes in the garage, or end up thrown away. That's my thought for the day! I'll be taking some books to the library tomorrow. -- Jen