At Community Solutions, our work is generally focused on policy and research—writing and meeting and writing some more, but once a year, we take a brief break from the day-to-day. We step out of the office, roll up our sleeves and help a partner organization in its efforts to provide direct service to our neighbors in need.
Last Friday, our board and staff, even three folks from our Columbus office, spent the afternoon volunteering at the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank (CKBB). We entered an enormous warehouse in downtown Cleveland unsure of what we’d find, and we were met by huge boxes filled to their rims with hundreds of books—large and small, thick and thin, some full of pictures and others full of words. They needed to be checked, sorted and packed for distribution as gifts to children around Greater Cleveland. That was our mission. We tackled it with zeal.
Who knew that donated books needed so much attention before being put into the hands of their new owners.
And an eye-opening experience it was. Who knew that donated books needed so much attention before being put into the hands of their new owners—children who may never have owned a book before? Yes, as hard as it may be to imagine, hundreds of children have never held a book of their own.
Before any donate book can be given to a child, it must be checked for:
- Condition—new, gently used, used a little too much to pass along
- Age-appropriateness and reading level—cardboard for toddlers, picture books to be read to young children, early readers with lots of pictures and a few small words, short-chapter books with pictures and large type, harder-chapters with more words and fewer pictures, novels for teens, young adults and adults
- Content—Is it a story, workbook, textbook, cookbook? Does it contain anything that might be offensive to any particular group?
To get all that done, you’d think the organization must have a sizeable paid workforce. Nope. The 3.5 employees rely on more than 4,000 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to help get books ready for distribution.
Originally known for installing Little Free Libraries in low-income neighborhoods, CKBB quickly discovered a never-ending need for books, which led the organization to develop a unique partnership with an online bookseller. That company used to send 100,000+ high-quality, gently used children’s books to recycling every month. Those books now go to Cleveland’s children.
For more efficient and effective service, CKBB developed partnerships with city and county agencies, schools and nonprofit organizations that serve low-income families. Through this network of 900 partner organizations, CKBB has touched more than 95,000 children by distributing 1.3 million books in two-and-a-half years.
The work of the CKBB is so exceptional that Community Solutions and the Cleveland Foundation were proud to present them with the $25,000 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award last year.
The work of the CKBB is so exceptional that Community Solutions and the Cleveland Foundation were proud to present them with the $25,000 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award last year. As was noted then, early exposure to reading is critical to brain development, literacy skills, school readiness and adult success. By putting books into the hands of children, the organization tries to open the door for them to learn, to imagine and to begin creating their futures. CKBB’s work aims to impact not only children, its goal is to help deepen the bond between children and their parents, strengthening families and creating an environment where they are learning together.
What do they need to continue providing this service?
- Volunteers— Individuals and groups. It’s easy to sign up for two-and-a-half-hour shifts here. Young professionals also meet once a month for a Books & Brew night where they network and sort books.
- Books— They’re always in need of gently-used or new children’s books. They have indoor collection bins for businesses that want to host a book drive. Soon, they hope to have collection bins hosted by suburban school districts. A tool kit is here.
- Help throughout the year from religious organizations in packing and storing books that highlight various faiths and/or holidays for distribution during those holidays. They receive them year-round but simply don’t have space to store them.
- Homes for books that are more suitable for adults. (That’s not really their niche.)
- Monetary gifts of any size.
Banks are usually focused on monetary assets, but this bank is designed to enhance our community’s greatest asset—our children. If you or your family, group or organization would like to spend some time helping the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, please visit their website or contact them at 216-417-1803 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They’ll welcome you with open arms—and open boxes of books.