Dream Big Book Drive aims to improve literacy on MLK Day

Opened boxes ready for send-off lined the grounds of Durham Central Park. (Staff photo by Arianna Swain)

Marneshia Gonzales’ “Nancy Drew” books were being boxed up at the Book Harvest Dream Big Book Drive. They were her childhood favorites, and she wanted to share them.

The 12-year-old, who is in sixth grade, was giving books away with her mother, Deidre Gonzales, at the eighth-annual book drive on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I read the same books over and over, so I like to give them away,” Marneshia said. She lives in Durham, an area that Book Harvest helps the most.

Madison Sirgany (left) and Heather Sirgany sorted books as first-time volunteers. “It’s just a great organization, and our children have been introduced to books from a young age, so all children should,” Heather Sirgany said. (Staff photo by Natasha Townsend)

Book Harvest is a volunteer-run organization that hosts book drives for people to donate books. The books go to local schools in Durham and to children’s homes to promote childhood literacy, said Daniele Berman, communications and events manager for Book Harvest. Book Harvest’s mission is to cultivate a love for reading and ensure success in school for kids of all ages, from babies to high school students. Book Harvest benefits children throughout the state, but is headquartered in Durham.

At the Dream Big Book Drive, held in Durham Central Park, volunteers swarmed around in light green neon vests to show that they were there to help. Busloads of kids and parents arrived to donate their books and to lend a helping hand. Volunteers sorted books by age group and packaged them to be sent to Durham public schools, community centers and health clinics throughout the Triangle. Dozens of organizations staffed booths as the drop-off station flooded with books. In its eighth year, the organization knows how to run a book drive efficiently. Last year, the organization collected its millionth book, Berman said. 

Book Harvest brings the community together in the hopes that a joint effort can help more children.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was one of the groups collecting books. The organization hosts youth groups in the community and seeks out children who want to give back.

“We are looking for enrichment opportunities for kids,” sorority member Candace Moorer said.

Student U, an organization that works with students to develop their personal well-being and academic goals, distributed flyers at the event. Students join the program before entering sixth grade and stay until they graduate college. The program yields a 100 percent high school graduation rate, said Brandy Luce, program leader. Student U came to the event because its mission to help students achieve academic success aligns with Book Harvest’s goal.

North Carolina graduate students Byron Ifediora and Ada Massenburg display a copy of “Green Eggs and Ham,” which they brought to the Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March and Rally, Jan. 21, to donate to Book Harvest. Ifediora, an NCCU graduate, is a doctoral student at N.C. State, and Massenburg is a master’s student at NCCU. (Staff photo by Jock Lauterer)

Adame.GoldenBeltArts1 Book Harvest has been successful not only in distributing books to children who need them, but also in improving literacy.

“This event is all about our big dreams for our kids and helping our kids reach their big dreams and literacy and loving books,” Berman said. The event honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream as well as  honoring kids’ dreams, she said.

Dale Evarts, 66, who lives in Durham, donated 10 books. He is a retired employee for the Environmental Protection Agency. His former colleagues at the EPA had a booth because they wanted to volunteer while they couldn’t work due to the government shutdown.. This was Evarts’ first time donating to Book Harvest, but the power of books is not lost on him. He is a longtime donor at the Durham County Library.

“Reading is power,” Evarts said about the importance of donating books to children. Reading allows people to communicate and gives them perspective, he said.

To Evarts and many of the volunteers that came out to collect, sort and pack hundreds of books in below-freezing temperatures, books are more than knowledge.

“Reading helps people understand themselves,” Evarts said.

Tiara Lassiter, 29, is a licensed therapist who grew up in Durham and lives in East Durham. She heard about Book Harvest through her son’s elementary school, where he was a recipient of one of Book Harvest’s programs, Books on Break.

Books on Break sends kids home over the summer with 10 new books to bridge the learning gap.

Lassiter’s son, Omari, 11, is in fifth grade at Parkwood Elementary School.

Omari has been receiving books for four years, and he enjoys choosing the books he reads during summer breaks, his mother said.

Books are readily accessible to children at the organization’s office in Durham, and Omari trades in his books for new ones a few times throughout the school year.

When Lassiter heard of Book Harvest, she was earning a degree in social work.

“At the time I started receiving [books], I wasn’t at a place where I could afford to buy all these different books for him,” she said. However, she wanted more for her son.

“I wanted to make sure that other families that experience what we do also have someone advocating for them to have more books in the homes,” she said.

Accessible books are important because learning doesn’t stop when children leave school. Books help children learn about their world beyond what school can teach them, Lassiter said. She has seen this effect in her son.

Omari used to not be interested in reading because he couldn’t find topics he enjoyed, but now he likes to read books with characters that look like him and ones he can relate to, Lassiter said. His reading scores have increased, and math word problems don’t give him trouble anymore, which his mother attributes to his voracious reading.

“One of the biggest things is he’s starting to get his family members to enjoy reading,” Lassiter said. “He might say, ‘I read this book in three weeks,’ and he’s wanting other people to join in on it, which is pretty cool.”

As Omari gets older, he can volunteer and grow in the organization, much like his mother, who is now on the board and is a member of the parent advisory committee.

Together, Lassiter hopes she and her son can reach more people like them, one page at a time.

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One thought on “Dream Big Book Drive aims to improve literacy on MLK Day

  1. This book drive is an awesome way to give back to the community. It is very powerful to see a community come together for the greater good. I really enjoyed this article. Well done!

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