Green Living, issue 9, Fall 2009
Local Greens Help Katrina Kids
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, the nation watched appalled. During the months following Katrina, volunteers flooded the New Orleans area to re-build, but they soon recognized that healing the Delta would mean more than erecting houses. It would mean replacing valued resources such as children’s books. Four years later, a Nashville-based rehabilitation effort continues. Jim Selin, who “never outgrew children’s books,” is spreading his love for children’s literature by spreading the books themselves. Jim, his volunteers, book recipients, and partner organizations, Plenty International and United Peace Relief, are celebrating 30,000 books delivered.
Jim first visited “Katrinaland” in January of 2006 as a volunteer with Plenty International. He has had a life-long interest in children’s education. After working in children’s homes in New York and California, Jim home-schooled his own children through middle school. When distribution of clothing and supplies dwindled after the hurricane, Jim founded Books to Kids to share his love for children’s literature. By encouraging young readers, Books to Kids is equipping a generation with democratic empowerment. “The books represent much more than a chance to escape to some wonderland in a child’s mind. They show that there are people in the world who really care what happens to them, and who love them,” says Maria M. Prout, a school principal in Boothville, Louisiana.
The books come from thrift stores, yard sales, libraries, and personal donations. Books to Kids is a resource-matching project: high-quality literature, in over-supply in some places, is distributed to under-resourced children. Volunteers scout books from as far away as Massachusetts and deliver them to community centers and schools along the Gulf Coast. Partners in the community centers and schools send the books home with local children.
The community response has been tremendous. Susan G. Hughes, school librarian of New Orleans’s 9th Ward, works with children whose books were destroyed by Katrina. “You can imagine,” she says, “how excited they were to see all of the books delivered to our school.” The effect of Books to Kids on the children of the Gulf Coast region is immediate and continuing: the 30,000 children’s books distributed to date open young hearts as they nourish young minds. Books to Kids now distributes books to three elementary schools, two neighborhoods, two community centers, one summer camp, and several families in the Mississippi Delta. Adding to the excitement, the next delivery will arrive in a monogrammed trailer built and decorated by volunteers.
The organization’s success depends upon a network of volunteers and sponsors across the country. Most of all, Books to Kids needs money for books, supplies, and the cost of travel and shipping to the Gulf Coast. Books to Kids also needs volunteers to sort, repair, clean, and distribute books; storage space in Nashville for books pending distribution; and donations of children’s and young adult books. We especially request award-winning literature (e.g., Newbery Medal, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, ALA notable children’s books) and books that feature minority children!