It’s early May and the headquarters for Children Read, an efficient space tucked behind the Fidelity Bank across from Toco Hills shopping center, is humming with activity. Children’s books fill every nook and cranny of this all-volunteer operation, but they are not here for long. Some are headed to Sheltering Arms Early Education and Family Center’s East Lake location, where 78 children ages 3-5 are about to each receive a bag of five books and 56 babies a bag of three books each.
“We have given away over 31,000 books to more than 1,000 children,” Marlene Zeiler, Children Read Founder and President, said.
In 2013, even though Zeiler sold the Tall Tales Books Shop that she owned and operated since 1979, she wasn’t ready to part with books. Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to.
By happenstance, she had heard an NPR story a few weeks prior about a children’s book bank in Portland, Oregon. This sparked Zeiler’s next chapter – she would collect books and give them to low-income preschoolers.
“My mantra is reading is forever; start early. These kids need to have a chance to do that,” Zeiler said.
As books poured in from former customers, she approached her old landlord, Clyde Sheppard. “Do you have space you want to give me” Zeiler asked him. He did – and rent-free.
Today, Children Read collects, repairs, and distributes gently used or new books to children aged birth to five, at 28 Head Starts primarily near downtown Atlanta (Sheltering Arms) and Clarkston (Partnership for Community Action), and to 30 pre-K programs housed in DeKalb County Title 1 Schools.
“We go to these schools with our volunteers, read a story in each classroom, and leave a bag of books for each child to take home. Many of these children don’t have books at home and often get to kindergarten without the basic skills for beginning to read.” Cindy Jaret, Children Read Vice President and former pre-K teacher.
In fact, 61 percent of lower income families have no children’s books in the home. This lack of early exposure to books is one of the biggest obstacles to literacy and to later school success. Sadly, those who are poor readers in third grade will likely remain so in high school.
“The children are very excited to get their own books and talk about who could read to them and who they could read to,” Jaret added. Reading with their parents will help improve their parent’s literacy skills too.
So clean off those bookshelves this summer and get ready to donate.
“Anybody and everybody can collect books,” Jaret urged. They’d love your board books, picture books, storybooks and those that introduce the alphabet, numbers, shapes, and rhymes.
And once you’re done at home – consider organizing a book drive. In 2015, The Goddard Schools banned together to collect 28,000 books for Children Read and just April followed up with another 16,000 books.
Other schools, scout troops, churches, and synagogues have also answered the call. Eagle Scout, Nathaniel Anderson collected 1,600 books to Children Read.
Children Read could always use more volunteers to prepare the book bags or read in the schools. The organization wants to expand to other low income pre-K programs in Atlanta, Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties.
“In the meantime some of those DeKalb teachers are going to be calling me next year –because they want us to come back for the new kids,” Jaret said.
“But we’ll do it,” Zeiler reassured.
Book Donation Sites:
- 2936M North Druid Hills Road on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or email firstname.lastname@example.org for other arrangements.
- Little Shop of Stories, 133-A East Court Square, Decatur.
- Tall Tales Book Shop, Toco Hill Shopping Center, 2105 Lavista Road.
- For more information see childrenreadatlanta.org .