PENNSAUKEN, N.J., June 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In just a few short years, the non-profit BookSmiles went from distributing 500 books a month out of English teacher Larry Abrams’ classroom to 85,000 books a month out of a South Jersey warehouse. This rapid expansion propelled BookSmiles to the position one of the largest book banks in the US. Abrams created the non-profit in November of 2017 with the mission of getting books into the hands of children living in book deserts.
Since its inception, BookSmiles has distributed almost 1.5 million books to children in need. BookSmiles currently operates out of a 4,300 square foot warehouse in Pennsauken, NJ and dispenses books throughout South Jersey and Philadelphia.
What was a key motivation for creating BookSmiles? Abrams began his career teaching in a town known for its affluence. His students came to him with enriched backgrounds, outfitted with the highest reading levels in the state. After a few years he found himself teaching English in South Jersey book deserts, where most of his ninth graders read on the elementary level.
“I learned the term “book desert” after reading an article in Atlantic magazine,” Abrams recalled. “Kids who grow up surrounded by books in the home do well in school. Kids who don’t generally struggle. This is an equity issue that can be solved by upcycling books normally headed to the recyclers or landfill.”
He posted a children’s book drive on social media and nearly 1,000 books rolled in. He began distributing to the elementary school kids across the street. Their unbridled joy moved him, and he saw parents taking books for baby siblings.
Abrams innovated a new way to collect quality books by painting flip-lid trash cans with colorful designs and placed them in upscale neighborhoods, accompanied by lawn signs for context. Between 5,000 and 7,000 books each month started streaming in, and were distributed to teachers in other districts.
Although distributing at a rapid pace, storage quickly became an issue. A fundraising campaign launched operations into a 1,000 square foot location in Cherry Hill. New Jersey and Philly teachers and nonprofits started taking between 15,000 and 25,000 books each month. Collection bins were set up on the Main Line and throughout South Jersey.
And then the pandemic happened. The teachers stopped coming but the books didn’t. The boxes started piling high.
“We needed to think of new ways to distribute. And then Jim Ward, a stand-out volunteer, thought to knock on the door of the Food Bank of South Jersey. A partnership was born,” Abrams remarked. “Wherever people need food, they likely need books for the kids.”
Securing funding for a 16-foot box truck was a game changer, allowing BookSmiles to store and transport pallets of books.
Success drove BookSmiles to fundraise for a big move into their current 4,300 square foot facility where Larry and his four-person staff now upcycle up to 85,000 books each month.
Abrams recently retired from teaching to expand operations. “Irrigating book deserts is a joyful thing that levels the playing field.”
SOURCE BookSmiles Book Bank