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- Jim Davidson

When we conducted a "gently used" book drive here in Conway, we were blown away with the response. The thinking of our committee, based on the number of bookcases we were going to build, was that around 5,000 books would more than meet our needs for several years. However, after only three months, we had over 6,000 books donated and had to ask the good people of our community to stop bringing them.

Americans are the most generous people on earth and when they know there is a real need, they respond. In our community, here is how we went about it. A few weeks before the book drive began, Chairman Jim Davidson made contacts with a number of banks and other organizations to ask for permission to place a collection box at their location or place of business. A number of churches also participated and this swelled the number to almost 30 drop-off locations where local people could drop off books. Some of the places we secured were: local newspaper, automobile dealership, Chick-fil-A Restaurant,United Way office, city- owned utility, cable television and Internet provider, and a number of banks with their many branches. Any places there are people and traffic are good.

In the same time frame, he got donated about 50 cardboard boxes 12" X 18" X 12" from a local box company. We created on a computer and printed out signs, with large letters, to tape onto the sides of the boxes. Each sign said, "Put in this box "GENTLY USED CHILDREN'S BOOKS" to be given with "A Bookcase for Every Child." He also attached his business card so people could call him when the box was full. When he received a call, he passed the word along to another member of the committee, Jerry Glover, who used his pick-up truck to pick up the boxes of books, leave an empty box, and take them to the church fellowship hall where they were being stored.

After the books were collected, another committee member, Phyliss Fry and a group of volunteers, mostly educators, went through the books and sorted them by reading level and content to go in the bookcases. We only gave about 10-12 books to each child, since we only wanted to give a "starter set" so these children and their parents could begin to fill the bookcases themselves, based on the child's interest and reading skills, over the coming years. This team also weeded out books which were inappropriate, were aimed at older children, or were not in acceptable condition. Such weeded-out books were donated to other programs. Books which were soiled or in bad condition were taken to the paper recycling center.

Now all that sounds simple enough but here are the real reasons why this plan worked. Our local newspaper publisher, Scot Morrissey of the Log Cabin Democrat, is also a member of our committee and he has been very supportive from the very beginning of our project. One of the first things he did was assign Jeremy Glover, one of his best staff writers, to our project. During the first cycle that took a little over six months, Jeremy has written eight different articles, and three of those ran, with a photo, above the fold on the front page, a terrific position for getting attention. Now that's support and commitment. Your newspaper is a wonderful institution and tool which does much good in the community. And obviously newspapers should be interested in literacy and literate people in their communities. Your local newspaper publisher should be one of the first people who you get on board.

Log Cabin Democrat (Front Page) Newspaper Article
After the first front page article announcing the beginning of the Bookcase for Every Child project, Jeremy wrote his second article to let our local citizens know that we wanted their "gently used" children's books and where they could be dropped off. As it turned out, most were dropped off at the newspaper because that is where the information came from. However, there were lots and lots of books dropped off at banks, churches and other locations around town. This served to make more people aware of our literacy problem and, by donating books, they also had a sense of "ownership" in our project.

After three months Jeremy wrote a third article to let our people know that we had enough books to meet our needs for the first year. We also received some great help from an unexpected source that was really a blessing. Linda Johnson and her staff at our local television cable Channel 81, also ran ads in beautiful color on a continuing basis and listed the Conway Corporation as a drop-off place for books. They also ran a "crawl" under the Weather Channel that was seen by thousands of viewers each day.

This is just another indicator of what can happen when people work together for the common good. It also demonstrates the power of the media in our society. Newspapers and other media outlets must report the news, because that's their job. But they can and do use that great power to help solve problems in our society -- like illiteracy -- that is devastating to millions of people in our country. What kind of future does a person in our society have, who cannot read?