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United Way more than doubles book collection goal

Source: The Herald-Palladium

By Alexandra Newman

March 28, 2018

ST. JOSEPH — If all the books the United Way of Southwest Michigan collected over the last month were stacked straight up, the result would be taller than the dome of the Michigan Capitol Building. 

The United Way collected 10,805 books in partnership with Berrien County Great Start Collaborative and Cass County Great Start Collaborative during it’s Spring Into Reading book drive during March in celebration of National Reading Month. 

“Someone figured out that’s 337 feet tall,” said Julee Laurent, United Way volunteer engagement manager. “We collected everything from ‘Llama Llama Red Pajama’ to ‘The Hunger Games.’”

The United Way will distribute books through home visiting programs in Berrien and Cass counties, area Great Start programs, reading treasure chests placed in Cass County agencies, book racks at area food pantries, and to add a Read Up component to summer Meet Up, Eat Up sites in Berrien and Cass counties.

The United Way had set a goal of collecting 5,000 books.

Laurent said kids will get extra books because so many volumes were donated. 

“We’re in a wonderful position. I got an email earlier this month from a little girl, who lives in Benton Harbor and does schools of choice, asking for a box of books,” Laurent said Tuesday. “I had to tell her sorry because the books were being collected for all these other programs, but today I got to tell her she could have some.”

Laurent said she can now call the homelessness liaisons for every area school district and see how many books their kids want.

“I believe we should do it every year,” Laurent said. “There will always be a kids who needs a book. They’ll need new ones next year because their interests and reading level will change.”

This was the first year United Way has lead the book drive, but the Berrien County Great Start Collabroative has done a book drive every other year for the last five or six years. This was just another way to future the United Way’s collaborative work, she said. 

Book drive boxes were set up throughout businesses and organizations in Berrien and Cass Counties from March 1-22. Laurent said AEP took a bunch of boxes before their most recent outage at Cook Nuclear Plant and collected more than 500 books. 

Lakeland Health and area banks put boxes in all their buildings, a book store in Niles that gets duplicates of books donated extras to the cause, and a local club gave $200 to buy books focusing on diversity, Laurent said.  

UPS donated their time and trucks to transport the books from the United Way offices to Berrien RESA. Volunteers then sorted the books by age-range and took out unusable and inappropriate books. 

“We thought, we do a Christmas in June each year – we can do little book shelves at food pantries,” Laurent said. “That’s kind of the real key to this, we talk about the summer slide and kids might not have access to books inside the home, or can’t get to library. If we can get books in their hands they can read all summer long and improve their reading skills.”

She said that’s why Christmas in June and Meet Up, Eat Up, part of the Summer Food Service Program from the USDA that ensures low-income children get meals when school is not in session, are so important.  

“You don’t always think about helping others all year long,” Laurent said. “It’s just about getting families the things that they need to create a better life.”