Signal Hill tops previous donation amount during BookSmiles collection

Signal Hill Elementary School donated over 5,000 new and gently used books to BookSmiles to provide reading material for underprivileged children in New Jersey

Signal Hill Elementary School, for the second year in a row, collected and donated books this January and February in working with BookSmiles, which aims to give children across New Jersey new and gently used books.

The Husky Service Team with Signal Hill, comprised of approximately 75 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, helped lead the book drive again this year during its month-long collection, urging students and parents to donate.

Special education math teacher Wendy Koenig says the school started the collection drive last year with a goal of 1,500 books and doubled it to collect more than 3,000. Once again hosting a collection this year for BookSmiles, Koenig said she expected the goal to be tough to reach, assuming the community had already donated majority of its spare books.

“This year we thought we were going to keep it at 1,500 because most families had already gotten rid of their books,” Koenig said. “But we already beat that by the end of the second week and then we raised it to 4,000. We ended up with 5,235 books.”

After hosting the collection, founder Larry Abrams of BookSmiles came to Signal Hill to host an assembly with the Husky Service Team to thank it for its work in leading the collection and talk to the young students about the program.

Abrams is an English teacher at Lindenwold High School and started his program in 2017 after noticing year after year that many students come to high school with a below-average reading level for students entering high school.

“It breaks my heart that a lot of my ninth-graders don’t come fully prepared at reading at a ninth-grade reading level,” Abrams said. “In Lindenwold, there are a lot of needs and many kids that can’t afford scholastic book fairs. That’s another thing that I find heartbreaking, I don’t think it’s right; it’s not right.”

After initially starting a small book drive on his own to give to kids in his classes years ago over social media, he expected the potential of a few hundred books to distribute. However, the rate at which he received books quickly allowed him to also go to the middle school, two elementary schools and the preschool in Lindenwold.

Within two years, Abrams has distributed approximately 50,000 books in Lindenwold alone.

“We are doing something really unique,” Abrams said.

Abrams says Signal Hill’s work in leading the collection drive has provided exceptional support for the BookSmiles program.

“Signal Hill is absolutely the vanguard, I can’t say enough good things about that school,” Abrams said. “I thought we pretty much tapped the well last year … that staff over there is amazing.”

BookSmiles also has a collection point at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees for others who may not have had the chance to donate.