Home libraries for the holidays

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As part of the AFT-First Book national partnership, AFT locals in New York, Florida and Texas helped bring holiday cheer to students and families in need, and to the educators and community programs serving them, by distributing more than 200,000 free books in December to deliver the joy of reading and create home libraries.

Middle Island Teachers Association volunteersThe New York State United Teachers coordinated a statewide effort to distribute more than 80,000 books to affiliates from Long Island to the North Country. In no place was the interest and demand for books greater than at Longwood High School, where the Middle Island Teachers Association (left) gave out more than 20,000 books in under two hours.

In New York City, members of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Technical Staff at New York University included an age-appropriate book in every child's gift package in the annual Stockings with Care campaign. (Local president Stephen Rechner is pictured below.)

UCATS President Stephen RechnerSeveral other NYSUT affiliates held book distributions in their communities so that students and families would have access to books to read over the winter break and beyond. For more on these distributions, see "The Night Before First Book," a poem written by NYSUT staffer Liza Frenette to see how locals got creative in delivering their books to students and families.

In Tampa, a broad community effort helped organize more than 45,000 books given away in the parking lot of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. Volunteers from several organizations, including the HCTA, the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, the Hillsborough Alliance for Public Schools, the United Way Suncoast and Molina Healthcare, created a fun holiday atmosphere at the book distribution with book readings, a "fishing for letters" game (shown below) and even a smoothie-making exercise bike to promote healthy living. More than 700 families came out to take home books, and educators participated in a hands-on First Book Marketplace training to learn more about the 6,000-plus books, as well as school supplies and even winter coats, that are available at greatly reduced prices on the website.

A scene from TampaJean Clements, president of the HCTA, says the goal was to give books to children who otherwise might not have them at home.

"As a teacher, when I see kids who don't have books—when I ask kids, 'What's your favorite book at home?,' and they don't know what I'm talking about—it breaks my heart," she says. "They are missing out on that magic." (Read more about the event in the Tampa Tribune.)

In the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in Texas, the PSJA AFT and district administration worked closely to get the word out that they were distributing more than 80,000 elementary, middle and high school books. (Pictured below.) Hundreds of students, school staff and community volunteers donated their time to sort the massive number of books, which took two semi-tractor trucks to deliver. One of those volunteers was Antonio Cruz, head custodian at Allen and William Arnold Elementary School, who helped sort books along with his wife and son.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo book distributionDelia Ortiz, one of the PSJA AFT organizers and a teacher at Kelly-Pharr Elementary, says the event took hard work, but promoting literacy in the community was worth it.

"It took us a little of two months to accomplish this great feat of providing 80,000 free books to our community," says Ortiz. "With all the hard work, support and volunteers, we made it possible for our students to build their personal home libraries and encourage literacy."

She adds that PSJA AFT was fortunate to have a partnership with First Book. "We approached [the school district] in order to work in collaboration to bring these free books to our students, and were excited to partner with the district on the initiative."

[Leslie Getzinger]