Students select books at a Gift of Reading distribution

Students select Gift of Reading books

To inspire young minds and promote literacy, 22 Bay Area bookstores, libraries, offices, and schools joined Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) and the San Jose Mercury News for the 25th annual Gift of Reading program. Literacy is the foundation for success in school, yet large portions of the nation’s students face daily access barriers to learning tools as basic as books. Without the opportunity to read regularly and gain confidence in this essential life skill, students are prone to poor school performance, low confidence, and diminished career prospects.

For many young people, books are an unaffordable luxury. Through collecting books and funds, RAFT recently completed distribution of 40,000 books to low-income students and educators working with disadvantaged youth. Pamela Gutierrez from Eden Housing Resident Services runs several programs to benefit children and families at their Bay Area facilities, including a homework club and library. Pamela distributed more than 300 books from Gift of Reading to give students a book of their very own.

“This program gives children the ability to have books in their home,” said Gutierrez. “I had one child tell her mom how excited she was to be getting a book. She was so happy she didn’t have a time limit or have to return it at all. It is great to see the children’s eyes light up with the excitement of these new books.”

For the past 25 years, the San Jose Mercury News has rallied the community to donate books to make experiences like this possible and partners with RAFT to connect these gifts with the students who need them most. Nearly two dozen locations hosted donation barrels which community members filled with new and gently used books for the better part of two months. Many schools and groups also held book drives to support the effort. RAFT then distributed the books to educators and organizations like Eden Housing to provide children with their own books or help teachers build class libraries for the benefit of all their students.

Community members responded in creative ways to far exceed the 2012 collection of 30,000 books. Shirley and Reg Hildreth of San Jose turned an annual party into a book collection opportunity. By asking friends, neighbors, and colleagues to contribute a book in lieu of a hostess gift, the Hildreths collected 75 new children’s books for the Gift of Reading.

“So many of us have electronic readers, but I think it’s important for kids to have a book they can reach for on their bookshelf,” said Hildreth. “It was a lot of fun buying and collecting the books. Our friends and neighbors were all excited to help and we hope to make this an annual tradition.”

Although Gift of Reading comes but once a year, businesses and individuals can join RAFT in supporting students and educators throughout the year. RAFT has locations California (San Jose, Redwood City, and Sacramento) and Colorado (Denver).