The Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank: Investing in a Lifelong Love of Reading

Literacy impacts every facet of life in our data-driven society. Without language skills, even the most basic ambitions of a fulfilling life are simply unattainable. The resolution to the literacy problem in Cleveland begins with our kids. But sadly, 2 out of 3 low-income families don’t own a single children’s book. The Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank has already taken a huge step forward to change those numbers, in only 16 short months.

The Kids’ Book Bank is creating a culture of reading in low-income homes throughout Cuyahoga County, changing the trajectory for 95,000 at-risk children. Since March 2016, they have distributed 621,399 high-quality children’s books to families in need through 548 partner organizations. The goals of the Kids’ Book Bank and their partners are straight-forward: to encourage parents to read with their children and to inspire children to read.

You’ve probably seen a Little Free Library, or two, around your neighborhood. They look like giant birdhouses but contain a revolving inventory of books, both donated and taken by neighbors. The Kids’ Book Bank evolved from the idea of its founders, Judi Kovach and Judy Payne, to install Little Free Libraries in low-income neighborhoods. This initial plan was a huge success. They were supporting 60 Little Free Libraries but couldn’t keep up with the demand for books. In November 2015 they had a breakthrough solution to their supply problem. They developed a unique partnership with an online bookseller who was sending 100,000+ high-quality gently-used children’s books to recycling every month! Three months later they opened the Kids’ Book Bank in a warehouse in Cleveland’s MidTown business district. Now that they’d solved the supply problem, the Kids’ Book Bank needed an efficient distribution system to get these books into the hands of the 95,000 children who were waiting for them.

They reached out to the leaders of community organizations to develop a high-impact and efficient distribution strategy. Nearly 70,000 books every month now flow through the network of 584 schools and agencies the Kids’ Book Bank partners with.

Recognizing that early exposure to reading is critical, their first priority was to distribute through early intervention initiatives to empower parents and caregivers to read with their young children. More than 3,500 mothers are receiving books monthly from agency outreach workers that role model reading with their babies; 350+ home daycare providers are receiving books quarterly to read with the children and then send home for them to read with their parents. School-age children are excited to choose books provided through their tutors, coaches, pediatricians, after school programs, summer camps, food pantries and churches, as well as from their network of 90 Little Free Libraries.

They have recently formed partnerships with WIC and Cleveland area schools, and through just these two initiatives, will distribute approximately 348,000 books to 87,000 underserved children in 2017.

As one can imagine, the 100,000 books each month don’t arrive at the Kids’ Book Bank pre-sorted and neatly organized. Thanks to more than 2,200 community volunteers, these books are sorted and boxed for efficient distribution. The volunteers come in all ages, from teenagers to young professionals, families and retirees. Volunteer extraordinaire, Kristen Saada, who co-chairs the fundraising committee, orchestrated a hugely successful, literary-themed fête last November to raise awareness of the Kids’ Book Bank. Kristen also hosts many “Sip & Sort” events to engage more volunteers.  Groups of all stripes, co-workers, book clubs, young professionals, come for  Books and Brews events and Sip and Sort parties, noshing on snacks and drinks as they sort and pack, and bond and network.

Volunteering for the Kids’ Book Bank is more than a good time. It’s deeply gratifying to give time, energy and money where the impact of an organization is so extensive. After less than two years they have already had a direct effect on tens of thousands of children. Thousands of new moms are now reading daily with their at-risk infants and young children. But the impact goes beyond fostering literacy – there’s an increased self-confidence in the parents’ ability to engage in their children’s future success.

The Kids’ Book Bank is now working with public housing, recreation centers, preschools and many other partners who want to help distribute books. This number will be obsolete by the time this magazine goes to print, but as of this minute the Kids’ Book Bank has distributed 639,722 high-quality books to families in need throughout Cuyahoga County.

If you would like to be part of this literacy movement, contact Kristen to volunteer, sorting and packing books, at ksaada05@aol.com. To know that you’ve done something to open a child’s imagination and further a parent’s aspirations for that child is one of the greatest feelings.

 

Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank

3635 Perkins Ave, Suite 1E

216.417.1803

kidsbookbank.org

 

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