Volunteers sort books, 42,000 of them, for summer distribution

Booker High School students, from left, Charlotte Corporan, Nathan Miller and Dayan Ricardo sort through books at the Herald-Tribune Printing Press. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County will hand out the books to children and families throughout the county on July 14 as part of National Summer Learning Day. Photo by Dan Wagner.

Booker High School students, from left, Charlotte Corporan, Nathan Miller and Dayan Ricardo sort through books at the Herald-Tribune Printing Press. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County will hand out the books to children and families throughout the county on July 14 as part of National Summer Learning Day. Photo by Dan Wagner.

Areli Benitez saw a familiar title as she helped label and sort 42,000 books.

She’s read “Anna Loves Elsa,” by Brittany Rubiano, to her 6-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother. On Wednesday, the 14-year-old sophomore flutist was one of about 30 Booker High School marching band students who volunteered at the Herald-Tribune printing plant to make sure children across the county would have a book of their own.

Booker High School students Leah Mehtala and Luigi Lockhart sort through books at the Herald-Tribune Printing Press on Wednesday. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County will hand out the books to children and families throughout the county on July 14 as part of National Summer Learning Day.

Booker High School students Leah Mehtala and Luigi Lockhart sort through books at the Herald-Tribune Printing Press on Wednesday. The Community Foundation of Sarasota County will hand out the books to children and families throughout the county on July 14 as part of National Summer Learning Day.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County will hand out the books to children and families throughout the county on July 14as part of National Summer Learning Day, said John Annis, the foundation’s senior vice president of community investment. They decided to have a book distribution to get books to students from low-income families.

Summer reading helps to combat summer slide, from which students lose momentum before the next school year, said Beth Duda, the director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Middle-income households have an average of 13 age-appropriate books per child, while low-income neighborhoods average one such book per 300 children, according to the campaign.

The foundation bought the books from First Book, a nonprofit that distributes books to low-income families in the U.S. and Canada, for 23 cents each, Annis said. The books cost about $10,000.

Because the foundation got the books in bulk, they didn’t know what titles they received until they opened the boxes, he said.

“Today, it’s almost like Christmas Day,” Annis said.

When they opened the boxes, volunteers found Disney and Star Wars themes for early elementary school students and Rick Riordan mythology novels for middle and high school students, among others.

At wooden workbenches, volunteers stood three to a table, putting “We love books” stickers with sponsor’s names on the inside cover of each.

Labeled books were then grouped by title and grade level. Students walked among 22 palates of books, looking for copies of what they held.


Why books? 

  • Research has shown students experience summer learning loss and lose ground academically when they’re out of school.
  • Low-income students lose an average of more than two months in reading achievement in the summer. This can slow gains toward third grade reading proficiency and worsen the achievement gap between children from low-income homes and their peers from middle-class families.
  • Studies have shown that 6-week summer learning programs help students from low-income families achieve statistically significant gains in reading performance. Here is a snapshot look at the issue, by the numbers.
  • Two-thirds: The percent of the ninth-grade reading achievement gap that stems from summer learning loss
  • 13: Average number of age-appropriate books per child in middle-income households
  • 1: Average number of age-appropriate books per 300 children in low-income neighborhoods
    — Information from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

At 9:15 a.m., volunteers cheered as they finished the first palate, which held 769 copies of Riordan’s “The Sword of Summer.”

Members of the marching band got involved after Booker Principal Rachel Shelley called Annis about getting a grant for new marching band uniforms.

Uniforms cost about $400 each, said Ryan Gantt, the band’s director. He’s looking to buy 100 new uniforms to replace the marching jackets, which are 15 years old, and the marching pants, which are 30 years old.

When Annis mentioned the book sorting to Shelley, Gantt brought a small army.

“When they put us to a task, we work hard,” he said.

Books will be given to four main elementary schools: Emma E. Booker, Tuttle, Gocio and Alta Vista, said Kirsten Russell, a staff member for the Community Foundation. Organizations like the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club will also get books.

Sean Bradburn, 17, got to the printing plant at 6:45 a.m.

The senior plays baritone horn at Booker. He said he heard about volunteering from his band director before school ended and decided to take a day from summer vacation to help out.

“People need books,” Bradburn said. “With everybody’s help, we can get this to them.”