Former Moorestown and Lindenwold teacher Larry Abrams decided six years ago to combine his passion for reading and helping children, eventually forming BookSmiles, a book bank with new and used titles for kids in the New Jersey and Philadelphia region.
Now, with the help of dedicated readers and educators, BookSmiles operates a 4,300-square- foot-book bank in Pennsauken, where it processes more than 1,000,000 children’s books a year.
Abrams said his idea really stemmed from the class distinctions he noticed between Moorestown students and those in Lindenwold as he taught there.
“I felt that the children in Lindenwold deserve to have the same access to books that the students in Moorestown had,” he noted. “It started with one modest book drive and (I) thought, ‘This is the way to level the playing field.’”
While students in both school districts had access to education and books, Abrams nonetheless felt there was an education gap in young children, which is why his book bank is dedicated to getting smaller kids access to age-appropriate titles.
To raise funds, BookSmiles will host its first 5K next month, with a goal of $20,000 that would help pay for distribution of books all over the state and for the nonprofit’s operating costs.
“By reclaiming books and generating money, we are able to pay our rent, pay our two full-time workers,” he explained. “… We are able to source our books for 40 cents or less, which definitely beats paying $1, $10 or even in some cases, $20 for books.
“We get gorgeous children’s books (in great shape),” Abrams added. “We give away books to teachers in underserved districts that distribute (books) to their classrooms.”
The 5K was actually the idea of Abrams’ son Rob, an all-state track star at Cherry Hill West and all-American long-distance runner at The College of New Jersey. The elder Abrams claims his son is the brains behind the 5K idea.
“He came to me and said, ‘Dad, I really want to help you out,’” Abrams recalled. “I want to coordinate a (race).’ He just turned 24 and is taking care of everything, coordinating all of the logistics. Rob also came up with the name BookSmiles for us.
“ … This is really a father-son event.”
Runners and walkers will pay a fee of $30 for the race, which will take place along the Cooper River, starting on its Cherry Hill side. BookSmiles also offers six tiers of sponsorship, including $300 for an aid station sponsor, $500 for a finishing banner sponsor, $1,000 for a shirt sponsorship and $5,000 for a name sponsor.
For more information on BookSmiles and race registration, visit https://www.booksmiles.org.