Many of the Hurricane Katrina survivors coming through Chicago’s Heartland Alliance have lost everything. But thanks to a little help from some friends, some of the children left with a book—and a smile.
"It was the first tangible thing they could walk away with," says Cherrell Jackson, the alliance’s community resources coordinator. "They were really excited, it made them smile."
The alliance is one of three locations that received books from Chicago Parent’s recent three-month drive, which ended last month.
Thanks to readers and advertisers who put out collection bins in 10 different locations, Chicago Parent collected nearly 2,000 books—more than half from a group of third graders in Glenview.
Following the hurricane, we sent three boxes of books to the Houston Astrodome. Since then, we have targeted the books to the alliance in Chicago as well as Moss Bluff Elementary School in Lake Charles, La., and Woolmarket Elementary School in Biloxi, Miss.
Wanda Morra, Woolmarket’s principal, says Chicago Parent’s drive as well as donations from other drives has helped replenish the school’s library, the classrooms and some of the students’ home libraries.
"It really has been kind of heartwarming," Morra says about the drive’s effect on the school of about 525. "We appreciate everything and thank everyone for what they’ve done."
One of the most amazing collection efforts came from Toby Pleszkun’s third-grade class at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School in Glenview.
The official count is 1,000, according to Pleszkun, who says the kids counted and organized the books—some even skipped recess to continue working.
"Most of the kids at this age love to help," Pleszkun says. Mimi Bommarito grew up in Shreveport, La., about five hours north of New Orleans. Her 9-year-old daughter, Marin, is in Pleszkun’s class.
"After hearing all these horror stories, it was really hard to be away and watch it on TV and not do anything," Bommarito says.
Bommarito read about the book drive and helped involve her daughter’s class. Marin, who spent time organizing the books, describes the effort as "cool." She says she was "amazed" at the success and hopes the books will make a difference.
"It’s sad because they lost their home. It will cheer them up and they have something to do," Marin says.
Pleszkun says with a book, there is no "gray area" about how the donation will be used. Bommarito says children’s connection to reading makes a book drive a great option for children.
"Kids have such a special attachment to reading at that age and being able to share that helps drive the message that they’re helping other kids," Bommarito says.