By Nicole Hennessy
417,469 books. Judy Payne, founder of the Kids’ Book Bank, read this number off of a piece of paper. It is the amount of books the year-old nonprofit has given away since March 2016.
The organization will host a fundraiser at Heck’s Café Avon April 5 in an effort to keep the momentum going.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, it was business as usual in the book bank’s Midtown Cleveland warehouse, volunteers diligently sorting massive boxes or “gaylords” of books.
“It just sort of happened,” Payne said of the book bank’s formation, as if she intended to leave it at that. She quickly started at the beginning of a story she now easily retells.
“What happened was, in about fall 2013, we had 60 Little Free Libraries that we were supporting in
Cleveland neighborhoods,” she explained.
“Two out of three low-income kids don’t have books, and we wanted to make sure they had books.”
The problem was the free library books would go so quickly and none would come back, since those
utilizing the libraries did not have books.
“We wanted them to keep the books,” said Payne, who began wondering how they were going to keep up with this demand.
That’s when she and her partner Judi Kovach began seeking large volumes of books. They considered putting collection bins in suburbs all over Northeast Ohio, but continued brainstorming ideas.
Researching book banks all over the country, they stumbled on a company called Discover Books, one of the largest used book sellers in the world, which was partnering with a book bank in Oregon.
Kovach called the company, hanging up when she got the voicemail. That was that, they thought, moving onto the next idea.
Moments later the phone rang. It was Discover Books returning their call.
“It turned out that a year and a half ago they had bought their largest processing plant in Toledo, Ohio,” Payne said, her eyes light up as she remembered the serendipitous feeling she had when she learned this.
“Everything about this is serendipity,” Payne said. “It’s this place,” she ventured, gazing around the warehouse almost in awe herself.
Discover ended up offering Kovach and Payne 40,000 books right off the bat.
Books also come from individuals and libraries, all of which have to be sorted by reading level.
Through city and county social services, schools and basically any organization that works with low-income families in Cuyahoga County (for now), Payne is able to reach families in need directly.
“Our goal is four books for every low-income child throughout the county (annually),” Payne said.
“That’s this year; my real goal is 12.”
Payne hopes to eventually expand to other counties.
In the meantime, she encourages others to visit littlefreelibrary.org to set up free libraries in low-income areas.
Or, for families that want to donate books, she suggests they log onto kidsbookbank.org and fill existing little libraries all over Cleveland.
The most needed books in the little libraries and at the book bank are board books, preschool books and early readers.
Payne says those interested in helping can also attend the upcoming benefit, volunteer at the book bank as an individual or group, simply raise awareness or host a Read-A-Thon – an event where students commit to reading a certain amount each day in exchange for donations.
Students in Fairview Park recently raised $700 for the book bank through a Read-A-Thon.
Becca Huntington, a Bay Village resident and longtime volunteer, organized the Avon fundraiser.
“The people that I have met through the Kids’ Book Bank are truly amazing people, and it is such a fun organization that does so much for the community. There are so many ways to help out, that there really is something for everyone – whether you want to do it from the suburbs or step out of your comfort zone and go downtown to volunteer,” said Huntington.
“It is so vital for all kids to have books.”
For more information or to volunteer or donate visit kidsbookbank.org.
The Kids’ Book Bank’s Eat, Drink and be Literary benefit will take place at Heck’s Café Avon, 35514 Detroit Road April 5 from 6:30 until 9 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $100 and can be purchased at the door. The event will include appetizers, wine and desserts; a chance to win a Seven Springs Mountain Resort Getaway Weekend; a literary-themed raffle and games.
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