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Book Harvest gathers, gives books for kids

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DURHAM, N.C. -

It's hard to walk in Ginger Young's new office space. It's filled with boxes of mostly used books that are stacked several high and several deep. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Young is the founder and executive director of Book Harvest, an organization aimed at making sure every child in the Triangle has a home library of books.

"When people bring their books to us, harvest their shelves at home to bring them to us, we're able to then put them out into the community in ways that children who need books can harvest them from our shelves," she said.

Young started collecting books in her Orange County garage two and a half years ago to give to kids in the community.

"Many studies say nearly half, some say more than half, of low-income kids have no books at home. I knew that was a problem we needed to address," she said.

Her life-long love of reading drove the book drive.

"I spread the word to a few friends and before we knew it, we had local schools running book drives that brought in thousands of books."

Book Harvest grew and is now reaping success.

"We knew that if we could get books to kids who need them, we can get them to do better in school and it's turning out to be true," she said.

The organization, now with a part-time staff, just moved into a new space in Durham, which is better for collecting donations and attracting volunteers.

Sydney Jeffs, 16, started volunteering two years ago.

"If you give a kid a book or watch their face light up or read a child a book, I think that's really something special," she said.

Jeffs points to reading books as a child as a reason for her own academic success.

"I'm a little bit young for my grade and one of the only reasons I was able to start was because I was a more advanced reader, was what they told me," she said.

Volunteers sort the books, put on labels and take them to two dozen places in the area with shelves filled with books ripe for the picking.

"You can take one and take it home and read and be good at reading," said Eveyln Patino, 7.

Her Chapel Hill family picks up books when they visit the Carrboro Community Health Center.

"It's good for the money, not buy it, take free books. And it's good for my kids' learning. And my little one learning in English," said her mother, Eunice Hernandez.

"You could be a better reader. If you ever have a reading test, it would be easier for you to understand the questions and you could pass the test," said Jonathan Patino, 10.

Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health Services, welcomed the shelves to his organizations locations in the area.

"To be able to partner with someone who really wants to make a difference in the lives of others and completing someone's total existence and being a better thing, what's better than that?," he said.

Since January 2011, more than 156,000 books have been donated. Of those, more than 131,000 have been given out.

"I've watched so many times when a child will say to me, ‘This is the best day ever.' Or, ‘I've never had a book before. I'm so excited to take this stack of books home,'" Young said.

If it's hard to believe that some kids have never had their own book before, Young said she's discovered that "there are many children where the only book at home is the phone book."

Summers are the most critical time of the year with kids out of school and away from books.

Books can help take kids to places they otherwise might not go. Without the books or the trips, kids can fall behind, Young said.

"Those kids who don't have the ability and luxury of going to camp or going on trips, those are the same kids who are going to show up back at school in the fall having lost about 22 percent of what they learned the year before and having to start over 22 percent behind. Meanwhile, the kids who had enrichments over the summer are going to have moved ahead or at least held their own," she said.

"We have lots of studies that show that simply reading as few as four books over the summer can keep a kid on track. Having 10 books to take home can completely cut that summer reading gap that we face with our kids who need books," Young said.

"That's something that's going to affect all of us. We can't afford to leave kids behind who need to be brought up and kept on track over the summer."

This summer, Young said Book Harvest will reach 2,000 kids, giving a stack of 10 to each one at places like schools and apartments, adding to the thousands already impacted throughout the community.

"I think it's great how much we've gotten done. I'm acutely aware of how much more there is to do. We haven't begun to do our work. We want to be in a position in five years where we can say with total conviction that every child in our community has a home library," she said.

The organization is now aiming to get books to even younger kids for the crucial pre-school years.

First time parents with babies who are eligible for Medicaid can get 10 free books when the baby is born and 10 more every six months until the child starts kindergarten.

For more information on how to donate, click here.

"There's a way for every single member of our community to get involved. If you have books at home that you're done with and you bring them to us, they will end up in the home of a low-income child," Young said.

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Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.