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The haves and havenots

BookSmiles is result of disparities in school reading resources

Christine Harkinson/The Sun: “Imagine how different things would be in the United States if every single child grew up with books that they owned,” says BookSmiles founder Larry Abrams.

Larry Abrams’ nonprofit has distributed more than one million books since 2017 to children who need them in Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Abrams founded BookSmiles after he saw the disparity between what resources Moorestown students had and compared them with Lindenwold schools.

“I wanted to do something about that, and that’s when I started using Moorestown as one of the very first towns where I could harvest what I call ‘book wealth,’” Abrams recalled. “Because, again, I saw that this is what Moorestown kids had. This is why they’re so successful with school, and they just have incredible options in life.”

“All we want to do is transfer book wealth from kids who have a lot of it to kids who don’t …” he added. “We upcycle books and get them into the hands of kids in need.”

According to the BookSmiles website, Abrams got his nonprofit idea going after he asked one of his students what she was reading to her 2-year-old. She told him that her child was too little to understand. 

Abrams had no books to give her, but not long after, he put out a call to friends for gently used children’s books, and a few thousand came in. Before opening the BookSmiles book bank in August 2019, Abrams stored thousands of titles in his classroom and garage. 

The book bank moved last September to its current location of 4,300 square feet in Pennsauken, where it will eventually be able to process one million books a year. According to Abrams, BookSmiles has harvested about 100,000 children’s books from Moorestown families over the last six years. 

Moorestown alumnus Connor Megill is a former BookSmiles volunteer who has helped the nonprofit collect about 50,000 books. His two younger brothers also volunteer with BookSmiles and among the three, they’ve taken in 95,000 titles.

Megill connected with Abrams through a library program he restarted with his friends – SJ Boys Read – and described his experience with BookSmiles as impactful and fulfilling.

“I was lucky enough to grow up with my parents reading to me every day,” he recalled, “and I’m glad that now we can help to spread the love of reading and literacy to other kids and help them have their own personal libraries or to help teachers bring books into their libraries to give out to their students, or to just have in their classrooms.”

“Reading is a really, really important thing, and just learning from books could solve so many problems in the world, in my opinion.” 

BookSmiles’ offers different ways to get involved with the nonprofit, including volunteering to sort, holding a book drive, becoming an ambassador, painting a collection bin or holding a Facebook fundraiser.

There are collection bins outside the book bank for people to donate children’s and adult titles, and residents can also donate their estate libraries.

“When people are clearing out their homes when they’re downsizing, there’s no other service that will specifically come for the books,” Abrams explained. “We are that option. They can call us, we will come to their homes, and we will professionally take their estate library and give them a receipt for taxes.”

“People love the idea that their beloved estate books are being turned into revenue to help further book ownership among kids living in book deserts.”

Abrams started sorting titles out of his garage six years ago. Now, BookSmiles has quickly become one of the largest children’s book banks in the nation.

“Being exposed to a lot of words puts kids at an advantage and makes them more reading ready when they come to school,” Abrams noted. “It helps with critical thinking and imagination, and it just builds a foundation for being able to speak the power language as we’re speaking right now.”

To donate to BookSmiles or learn more, visit https://www.booksmiles.org.

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