Bookmobile aims to provide gift of reading to underserved populations

‘Rebecca’s Mission’ now prepared to mobilize with addition of new wheels.

Rebecca Benjamin, founder of Rebecca’s Mission – which seeks to provide reading opportunities to underserved student populations in Camden County and beyond – shows off the brand new repurposed van at her Woodcrest residence which will be used for future endeavors. The van, fitted with special shelves, can hold an estimated 1,000 books.

Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Benjamin may not be legally able to operate a vehicle on her own yet, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be able to mobilize for charity. 

The Woodcrest resident and student at Moorestown Friends School is on a mission to bring the gift of reading to children throughout the region who might not have access otherwise. 

October is National Book Month, and Rebecca’s Mission was primed to take its message of literacy for all to the people with a brand-new, refitted “bookmobile” when the Sun caught up with her at home on Oct. 9.

“It’s a repurposed senior citizens van. We had a family friend (who) ripped out seats going all the way to the back, and customized the shelves,” Rebecca explained during a tour of the interior.

Massive shelves with multiple sections line both sides of the van, leaving a small corridor through which to move from front to back. Of course, for the books to stay in place, the shelves have been fit with removable poles that attach to each side to act as restraints while the truck is in motion.  

“In the back we have a little staircase that comes down and battery-operated lights on the roof that give the space a nice, bright feel. And then we have an awning we want to use in nicer weather, and we’ll have an outdoor rug that kids can come in and sit outside with their books,” she added. 

Although the practicality of the set-up hadn’t been tested yet, Rebecca estimated the van could hold somewhere in the range of 1,000 books. 

She began her nonprofit back in 2014, with the knowledge there are many classrooms in Camden County and beyond that lack the resources necessary to properly educate children.

“I had seen my parents with their own missions in the community; my dad had his own charity through his work and my mom, too, when she was a teacher in Queens. Between that and my personal love of reading, I found I wanted to do my part by giving back and donating books to the community,” she revealed.

The mission began with some small local book drives, then expanded into Barnes & Noble where Rebecca did all she could to meet people in person and get the word out. Later on, during two summers at ESF Dream Camp at Girard College, simple carts filled with books aided reading teachers who didn’t have access to materials that catered to its population. 

From there, a big leap was at Wissahickon Charter School’s Fernhill Campus in Philadelphia’s East Falls section, where Rebecca’s Mission was able to fill the whole library, so that, when students came in for the first day of school, they had a selection of great reads. But it was at C.B. Community Schools, based in a neighborhood to the east in Roxborough, where a breakthrough occurred.

“This is a school where 16 to 21 years old is the age range. It’s mainly kids in and out of the foster-care system. I remember walking in the first day, and you looked at the wall, where they have a track and it says the reading level, and the highest one was 5th grade. So they have an annex which had enough room for a library, it was a great space and I could envision something cozy and a little haven for them – but they had no books. We donated all the books for that library, even had a little event so they could try them out,” Rebecca said.

Most recently, the nonprofit donated books to Molina Lower School, part of Mastery Charter School and to an ESL (English as a Second Language) program in Camden as well.

The Benjamins are planning a “Driveway Event” at their home, 1913 Country Club Drive, where the truck will be out and available for the public to peruse the books inside. It is scheduled, rain or shine, for Saturday, Oct. 26, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

For more information about the organization and its mission, or to make a financial or book donation, visit www.rebeccasmission.org, or email info@rebeccasmission.org, or visit the Facebook page @rebeccasmissionfamily.