BookSmiles comes through despite COVID-19

Kiwanis of the Haddons joins local residents for MLK Day of Service.

Founder and Executive Director Larry Abrams (left) strikes a pose with Kiwanis of the Haddons member Pamela Stalcup (right) with a pair of gently-used books during a Jan. 18 MLK Day of Service event at BookSmiles’ headquarters on Old Cuthbert Road.

On the day he was to be awarded the Camden County MLK Freedom Medal, BookSmiles founder and Executive Director Larry Abrams opened up his headquarters on Old Cuthbert Road to welcome those interested in aiding his mission: to sort and distribute gently used children’s books to places in need around the Delaware Valley.

Part of the annual MLK Day of Service, and in concert with the Kiwanis Club of the Haddons, Abrams welcomed the public to his warehouse. The space, tucked between Interstate 295 and the New Jersey Turnpike, was only large enough to accommodate a small number of volunteers in two shifts, one from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and a second from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Pamela Stalcup, active with Kiwanis of the Haddons as well as a BookSmiles board member, thought the low-contact project would be perfect for those still wary of venturing out in public in the midst of a pandemic.

“This was one of the opportunities where we have a very small (batch of volunteers),” she revealed. “Here now, we have one family of five: two parents and three children. They’re here doing one shift of sorting books according to the developmental stages of children and also age appropriate. And then we have another family coming in to do another hour-and-a-half shift.”

Despite COVID restrictions that have significantly limited the number of people who might have joined his effort — and as his search for a larger home base continues — Abrams expressed gratitude to those who did sign on to help.

“Even though COVID-19 caused the cancellation of a lot of events on a day like today, it doesn’t matter,” he added. “Over here, we’re still committed to the mission. And we’re so lucky to have so many community members willing to mask up and help.”

For those who decided not to appear in person, Stalcup noted the number of contactless drop points throughout the region set up for book donations.

“We have many dropoff points throughout the community and the region, where people can drop the books,” she noted. One of them was a residence in the township’s Kingston Estates.

During a Jan. 18 MLK Day of Service event at BookSmiles headquarters on Old Cuthbert Road, the Cimoch family gathered to help sort gently-used books for future donations. From bottom left: Evan, Adam, Alex, Gabe and Sasha engaged in their annual service activity.

Sasha Cimoch of Haddon Township was part of the aforementioned family who worked the morning shift. For her, there was no question her clan would show up despite present circumstances.

“We always do a service (project) on MLK Day, and this is one of the few in-person ones,” she said. “We really wanted to get hands on and we’ve always been a fan of BookSmiles. We’ve been donating books (here) ever since we met Larry a few years ago, and loved his commitment.”

Cimoch revealed how she and husband Alex ask their children to consider their lot in life, to be grateful for what they have, but to also think about how and why others are not so fortunate. She hopes these yearly lessons can inspire them to give back and be grateful when they are able, and to foster understanding about what can be done.

In keeping with the idea that service to the community does not end with the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday, both Stalcup and Abrams reminded folks that contributions can be made to BookSmiles all year.

“There’s always a 24/7 collection bin here, right outside, that’s weather resistant,  and people can come here anytime and deliver books. We’re so happy that these families joined us and we’re looking forward to engaging more families,” Stalcup said.