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North Hills Monthly

The Book Bag Project Encourages Love of Reading in Children

Apr 27, 2020 08:59PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

“In a study of nearly 100,000 U.S. school children, access to printed materials was the key variable affecting reading acquisition.” —Literacy Foundation Project

The statistics are well-known to educators; children who come from homes with books have a greater chance for success. But so many families lack the resources to obtain books, and while libraries are a valuable resource, some families may not have access—not to mention that there is value in a child having his or her own books.

The Book Bag Project was created late last fall. When a group of friends, including many former and current educators, discussed the importance of books, they asked a few questions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have books—new books—for children with limited access to resources? And how about bags in which to keep the books?

“I made the book bags because I love children, reading and sewing, and this was a perfect way to combine all three,” said Barbara Wylie, who added that she remembers reading to her own three daughters, now grown.

“I still remember some of the texts of some of their favorite books, and now I’m reading these books to their children,” said the Peters Township resident.

Diane Adams, a retired educator, mother, and grandmother, purchased books for the project.

“It is a wonderful opportunity to encourage reading and learning, especially in this instance, for children and teenagers,” the Hampton resident said. “Books open up a whole new world and expand your knowledge and vocabulary, as well as your horizons.”

The book bags are simple cloth bags with drawstring tops, filled with new books. Last December, 40 bags filled with books, as well as additional books, were donated to two organizations that serve children in transition.

Community Human Services, which works with families who have lost their homes due to loss of jobs, domestic violence, gentrification and poverty, was one recipient.

“We rehouse and offer support and resources throughout the housing process,” explained case worker Melissa Osburn. While CHS focuses on finding houses for their families, they also help with other needs.

“Our caseworkers distributed the book bags, along with other donated items, to the families for Christmas,” said Osburn. “Many of the families cannot afford to buy presents for their children, so the books meant just as much to the parents as did the joy they brought to the children.”  

The second distribution of the book bags is slated for the end of May so that children can have new books for the summer months. While this was originally planned to coincide with children’s summer vacations when they don’t have access to books at school, because schools have been cancelled and libraries closed throughout the region due to COVID-19, this drive is more important than ever.  

Elia Irina Vith, a senior at Avonworth High School, used the extra time during quarantine to make book bags. 

“I love to read and recognize the importance of reading, so I immediately agreed to make book bags,” she said.

“Reading at a young age, or any age for that matter, is highly beneficial to a child's vocabulary and comprehension,” she added. “It helps strengthen concentration skills, instills empathy and promotes creativity—at least, that’s what it did for me.”

While some organizations offer gently used books, the project remains dedicated to providing new books for children. 

“When I was younger, I used to read close to 100 books a year. I couldn't get my head out of a book, and I think that every child should have some of their own books,” said Vith. “They need the opportunity to read stories that allow them to get lost in their own imaginations.”

For more information on how to donate or to receive books, contact kganster@verizon.net.