Bags of Books

Every book counts!

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Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

In elementary school I learned about the dreaded educational summer slide, the loss of learning skills students experience over months when classes are out, which disproportionately impacts low income students. I researched and found that reading books can reverse the summer slide. As an avid reader I couldn’t fathom not having a home library. When I learned that children who lived just 20 minutes away lacked access to books, I had to find a way to help, so I founded Bags of Books. All children deserve an equal opportunity to obtain the resources they need to succeed in school and life! When I set up my first “pop-up” store and saw the smiles on the students’ faces as they selected free books they wanted to read, I knew I made a difference! Children tell me our school visit is the best day of the year. Hugs and thank you notes from kids and teachers inspire me to grow my organization.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

43% of kids live in low-income homes and often lack access to age-appropriate books. Without books, children cannot succeed and dream. 23 states spend less on education than pre-recession-79% of 4th graders from vulnerable homes don’t read proficiently. Poor education is directly linked to future poverty, unemployment, illness, and crime. Help stop this cycle by promoting literacy, eliminating book deserts, and advancing educational equality!

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Since 2011, Bags of Books has collected gently used and new children’s books from pre-K through high school level. These collections occur in local communities, on college campuses, and in companies as part of their social compact to promote corporate responsibility. Manuals and marketing materials are provided to those conducting collections to assist them with the process. Collected books are then transported to organizations who help children in need including schools, community centers, and homeless shelters. Next, volunteers use a manual Bags of Books manual to sort the books by age level and then set up fun “pop-up” stores where children are permitted to select a bag full of free books to take home to kick-start their own home libraries! Some of the books are also donated to under-resourced classrooms, school/community center libraries, and family literacy nights.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

What happens when volunteers join us? MAGIC! SMILES! HUGS! (1)Grassroots Volunteers (any age) set up book collections in their hometowns to help underserved children. Initially I set up a Facetime call explaining how to run a successful book collection at schools, religious centers, or workplaces. (2)Corporate Partners: Once a company signs on, I provide them with a manual/marketing materials. Most companies collect year after year! (3)College Partners: Regularly pitch to colleges to host campus-wide staff book drives; partner with student groups to run collections by providing them a manual. Once the above partners collect books, I arrange for a school/non-profit in need to pick up and sort the books, and host a distribution event. Many who collect, then volunteer at our “pop-up” stores too! Volunteers also inscribe inspiring messages in books and decorate personalized bookmarks.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We treat underserved children with dignity and create a fun experience! Our “pop-up” store plays upbeat music, provides each child with a new bookbag/shopping bag, and invites them to shop for a bag full of free books of their choice. Most book charities give one book to a child - we give a bag FULL of books. Most charities give pre-selected books to kids - we LET the CHILD PICK BOOKS THAT INTEREST HIM - sports, mysteries, hobbies, science - they take home books they WANT TO READ! We dance at our events, save books from landfills, operate with NO FUNDING (although it’d be great to have some!).

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

1. HELPED THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN ACROSS US, AND EVEN THE WORLD: Collected/donated over 135,000 children’s books in 7 states (TX, PA, NJ DE, CA, LA, WA) and 3 countries (Bosnia, South Africa, Fiji). Currently, in talks to expand to 8 other states, DC, and several other countries. Books donated VALUED at approximately $405,000. 2. The 135,000 primarily gently used books were saved from landfills! A GREEN project! 3. RECRUITED THOUSANDS OF VOLUNTEERS: Donated, collected, sorted, transported books; created marketing materials; drafted manuals for operation; attended distribution events. 4. DONATED $1000 in prize money to Page Ahead (Seattle) 5. PRICELESS IMPACT: Promoted literacy, enabled underserved children to kickstart home libraries, provided books to school libraries, engaged youth from around the world to volunteer, spurred thousands of hugs and smiles from children worldwide!

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

(1) Campaign seeking international ambassadors to launch collections/distributions in all 50 states and around world. (2) New collections currently planned in West Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, Wash. DC, as well as other countries. (3) Setting up collections with new corporate partners including some hotel chains who have committed. Continually pitching to national/international corporations. (4)Since the University of Pennsylvania campus-wide staff collection was so successful (yielded 8,000 books), we’re now partnering with other college campuses. The University of Michigan Ginsberg Center is planning a fall collection. (5) Looking to expand our work with other non-profits who share similar mission.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

Bags of Books has operated for 7 years with no funding, just donations from a Rotary Club, transportation companies, and companies providing bags! For the past 3 years we’ve been invited to work with Wharton students as one of their clients as they assist us to create a scalable business plan, develop marketing materials/brand ourselves. We’ve worked with 60 Wharton students and are invited back this fall to gain additional counsel of business students. To scale Bags of Books we'd greatly benefit from additional resources including: (1)Technical advice to further develop our website, (2) Social media advice to expand our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram marketing and outreach to collection partners, (3) a new computer to manage operations!

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

As Peace First national fellow, I believe that working together to solve injustices is critical to the future of our world! We've already partnered with Urban Promise, Page Ahead, Tree House Books, the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, BBYO, International Maccabi Games, the KIPP National Charter Schools and Love Letters for Literacy. Classmates and teachers at area schools have always collected and helped sort books for local distribution events. The majority of the events over the years are in the Camden and Philadelphia region, so I rely on lots of local support. My family has been integral to Bags of Books’ success from the start. My sister, Jordan, and family have assisted me in counting, sorting and distributing books for the past 7 years. My mother has helped me with logistics and marketing. I’ve met many young changemakers all across the country who share my passion for “making a difference;” we often collaborate by sharing ideas and putting them into action. I pride myself on always asking for help! I have also spoken nationally to motivate young people to become changemakers! I'm always willing to pitch my cause and find ways to collaborate to create greater good!

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Word of mouth


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Photo of YorkLawFirm

Amazing work

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