When you are a child living in a homeless shelter, your possessions are few and far between—and during the coronavirus isolation, with schools temporarily shuttered and public libraries closed, access to books and other learning materials is especially limited. That’s why the AFT launched AFTBooks4Keeps this week, donating 10,000 books to more than 2,100 children living in New York City family shelters and supportive housing.
The distribution to Women in Need shelters—known as Win—was organized in partnership with the AFT, the United Federation of Teachers in New York City and First Book. It allows each child to choose two books to keep as their very own. Titles include bilingual and multicultural selections as well as books that support social and emotional learning—like Catch Me if You Can!/¡A que no me alcanzas!, a whimsical picture book about a grandpa dinosaur, by Bernard Most; Booked, a poetic novel about sports and adolescent angst by Kwame Alexander; and All Are Welcome, a warm and welcoming picture book that celebrates diversity, by Alexandra Penfold.
“These books were specifically chosen by Win and First Book staff for the children and families living in all 10 Win shelters to help them cope with the stress and trauma we are all feeling, to stay engaged and safe inside their temporary home, and to inspire a lifelong love of reading and learning,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “This crisis has exposed all the inequities of society. And just like our healthcare professionals are taking so many risks every day to take care of others, as a union of educators, healthcare professionals and public employees, it is our responsibility to take special care of those of us with the greatest need.”
AFTBooks4Keeps will extend beyond this one-time book distribution. In May, every child will receive an additional book and a journal to use for writing and drawing. This summer, UFT volunteers will set up permanent libraries with hundreds of books in each Win family residence.
“What we're doing today is something really special and really moving, but it’s something that kids should have all the time in New York City and elsewhere—particularly kids who are in transitional housing,” said Weingarten, who was on site during the first book distribution at Win’s Junius Residence in Brooklyn. “We’re making sure that kids in transitional housing have a library of books to read.”
The collaborative aspect of the project is one of its most hopeful elements, adds Weingarten, who hopes the partnership will become a model for other organizations to contribute books and learning resources to their communities, and help them “prioritize one of the most fundamental things we can all do together: read.”
Along with the books, children will get bilingual bookplates to write their names inside their books to give them a sense of ownership and pride in their books; bilingual bookmarks with reading tips for parents on how to help their children become strong readers; and bags so children and families have a place to keep their books and transport them as they transition to permanent homes.
AFTBooks4Keeps is an outgrowth of the long-standing partnership between the AFT and First Book. Together the organizations, with the help of AFT local affiliates, have distributed 5 million books to children across the country.
For a closer look at the Win book distribution, read this New York Times article.
[Virginia Myers, Leslie Getzinger]