Event provides 40,000 books to Philadelphia students

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Philadelphia's cash-strapped public schools might be short on paper and supplies, but thousands of the city's public school students have new books as the result of a Sept. 28 event in which more than 40,000 books were given away for free.

Allyson Schwartz and AFT Leaders

The Philadelphia event was a partnership between the AFT, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, AFT Pennsylvania and First Book. (First Book is a national nonprofit group that provides new, high-quality, low-cost books to children in need.) The groups are working together to provide much-needed educational resources to students, parents, educators and community programs to fill the void left by recent school district budget cuts and school closures.

It took just 3 1/2 hours to distribute the mountain of books. Teams of teachers came from Philadelphia public schools—where many libraries have been closed or are without librarians—to pick up the books. Representatives from community organizations, such as the Benjamin Franklin Museum, also were at the event to distribute information. Several other unions lent support to make the event a success.

Among those helping out were Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), AFT President Randi Weingarten, PFT President Jerry Jordan, AFT Pennsylvania President Ted Kirsch (pictured above), First Book Executive Vice President Chandler Arnold and children's author Eric Wight (a Philadelphia native). Jordan and Kirsch are also AFT vice presidents.

"How do kids learn to read without books?" Weingarten asked. "That's why we joined with First Book. We call this reclaiming the promise of public education. It's a collective obligation."

Teachers picking up books.

Schwartz thanked Philadelphia's educators for their amazing work despite the difficult conditions. "We need a recommitment to public education in this state and in this nation," she said. "Without support for public education, we cannot be the great democracy we are."

"Our kids are going to be successful because of you and First Book," Jordan told the packed hall of volunteers. "No one knows the sacrifices you teachers make for your children."

"This is another example of what the union is doing with community to get the children what they deserve," Kirsch said. [AFT press release, Kate Childs Graham, Dan Gursky/photos by Laurie Beck Peterson]

September 30, 2013