BookSmiles celebrates second anniversary of book bank

Organization is dedicated to finding newer and larger digs.

It takes a village, and BookSmiles has a small cadre of dedicated employees and volunteers who try to irrigate book deserts throughout the Garden State. At Double Nickel Brewery in Pennsauken on Aug. 26, they gathered for the second anniversary of the organization’s book bank, now located in Cherry Hill. From left to right: Scott Hartman; Sangeeta Doshi, a Cherry Hill council member; BookSmiles Outreach Coordinator Jamaal Jackson; Rob Abrams; Mel Zimmerman; Kathy Judge; Pamela Stalcup; Jane Scarpellino; BookSmiles Founder Larry Abrams; and Nick Hertzberg.

Among other things, BookSmiles founder Larry Abrams foresees the organization accommodating its growing mission by moving to a roomier space and distributing its one millionth book. 

Abrams was celebrating the second anniversary of the BookSmiles book bank at Pennsauken’s Double Nickel Brewing Company on Aug. 26, with special guests who included Sangeeta Doshi, a Cherry Hill council member; new Outreach Coordinator Jamaal Jackson; and roughly 80 educators from South Jersey and beyond. 

Abrams’ mind was, as usual, pondering the next step. 

“Every time a teacher comes there, and we generally give away 75 to 125 books each time one visits the book bank, we have the count. But we’ve also established a relationship with the Food Bank of South Jersey and they have taken, since March, 59,000 books,” Abrams said on how he’s able to track an exact number that has recently soared past 600,000.

Abrams has been both vocal and proactive in finding a larger space for BookSmiles than its current storage facility on Old Cuthbert Road. He wants to move 100,000 books a month, but needs a building footprint of no less than 4,000 square feet to reach that goal. 

Time is of the essence because space is precious. During The Sun’s last visit to BookSmiles, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, only Abrams, a small handful of volunteers and two families sorting books were able to move comfortably and in from the cold.  

“We are getting books out as quickly as they come in, but we use every single square inch to make that happen, he lamented. 

Abrams is looking hard at several locations in Camden County, Cherry Hill and Pennsauken chief among them. Yet, relocation is still about a year away from becoming a reality.

Jackson, a Rutgers-Newark graduate who secured his outreach coordinator role in early July, said his involvement with BookSmiles will complement Abrams’ when it comes to finding new avenues for donations and development. 

“My job is to be latching onto marginalized communities,” Jackson revealed. “We’re trying to get our tentacles up into north Jersey, Newark, the Oranges, Paterson — all of   those places that are book deserts.”

With Abrams tackling some of the high end neighborhoods in the region, Jackson plans to use his advantage of knowing people in less affluent circumstances to spread the word. 

“That’s where our pairing is like a match made in Heaven,” he boasted. 

Jackson related how he spent time this summer distributing books at places like Millennium Skate Club in Camden to engage the community and find creative ways to connect. He mentioned a fresh infusion of 5,000 books courtesy of an unknown “teacher of means” from Mullica Hill, and expressed a desire to find people on his end who could band together and do the same. 

Whether or not well meaning folks have the resources or give through the goodness of their hearts, BookSmiles still needs many to come together and support the mission, both in the short term and long term.

“We need people who really believe in spreading literacy,” Abrams noted. “We need them to think about us in their wills, do birthday fundraisers and help us get to the point where we’re able to raise $100,000 to go to a new place.” 

For more information and to either volunteer or donate, visit: https://www.booksmiles.org/.