It was a typical weekday afternoon, and Michelle Cook was grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend when inspiration struck. Her friend, a teacher, was sharing a story about a sweet encounter with a little boy in her class who was amazed when he heard about the number of books she had read just for fun.
The boy didn’t have many books at home, and it was clear he and several classmates figured reading was something you only did at school. That all changed when he heard his teacher talk about her love for books — and it was like a lightbulb lit up in his head.
Hearing this, Michelle started brainstorming.
What if they could get more books into kids’ homes and give them a reason to read outside the classroom? Furthermore, what if they could get other people involved to make a significant difference — not just now but for years to come?
The result of that conversation was Book Drive for Kids, an initiative started by Michelle Cook and Nicol Klingenstein to get books into the hands of kids from economically-disadvantaged homes at no cost to them or their families. What began as a handful of book drives five years ago has now expanded to nearly 40 this past year alone.
“My background is in education, too. So I started reaching out to people I knew,” Michelle said. “We ended up getting 2,000 books donated, which was amazing. And then we thought, ‘What if we do a free book fair, and then another?’ It’s a neat way to make an impact, and the response and results have been amazing.”
The harsh reality is that for many families, purchasing even one or two books is considered a luxury, resulting in a growing number of children who can’t build on the vocabulary they need to succeed in school. On top of that, they lose out on everything else books offer, such as exercising their imaginations, learning about new people and places, and developing empathy by experiencing a life or story different from their own.
Reading builds academic success and helps children develop soft skills they will use to navigate life.
Book Drive for Kids is helping them overcome these obstacles. This past year alone, the organization gave away over 31,218 books to 15,718 economically-disadvantaged kids across 39 book fairs throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Austin, Houston, and South Texas. They achieve this thanks to a hard-working group of 55 active volunteers and constant support, donations, and grants from outside entities.
For example, Thrift Books gave Book Drive for Kids a gift of $38,800 and 50,000 books. This helped fuel partnerships with literacy organizations such as Child Care Group Dallas, Reading Partners Dallas, Read Play Talk Mesquite, LovePacs Lewisville, and Christ Child Flower Mound. Beyond that, over 10,000 additional books were donated in the Share-A-Book campaign, including donation drives at Primrose Schools, Girl Scout Troops, Coyote Ridge Elementary School, and Donald Elementary Teachers.
“When we first started, we were concerned about the literacy aspect,” Michelle said. “As we’ve gotten further into this, we’ve realized there are other intangibles. For one, the kids truly feel like these are gifts to them. They aren’t just seeing these books as something that comes with being at their school; they realize there are people they don’t know who genuinely care enough about them and want them to have books available to them. It’s truly remarkable.”
She added, “The neat part for me is when we go back to a school, the kids recognize us from the year before. Our volunteers do a lot of hard work. It isn’t easy. But they are incredibly happy to give back and do something positive for the community.”
As for the future, Michelle said the sky really is the limit. Their first annual fundraiser is slated to be an adult spelling bee competition with representatives from local Rotaries and Chambers of Commerce. As they continue to raise funds and more organizations jump on board, the opportunity to visit more schools is expected to grow.
“We have the best volunteers and supporters we could ask for,” Michelle said. “It’s a win-win for everyone — especially the kids.”