Last month, First Book, a 20-year-old Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has given out more than 90 million books to low-income youth, distributed books in Detroit.

According to Brooke McCauley, senior manager, community development, with First book, First Book has two main programs. One is National Book Bank, which took place in Detroit the week of July 18. Publishers will give them a call and let know they need to get rid of so many thousands of books for various reasons.

“It could be because of low sales or they have new titles coming in, or it could be something as simple as maybe the wrong color was put on the book,” she said. “They don’t want to destroy the books; they’d rather give them out to a program that would put them to use. So they will give them to us.”

First Book then identifies partners with warehouse space or who can connect First Book to someone with warehouse space in various communities around the county. Warehouse space in metro Detroit was provided by Detroit World Outreach.

“We’ll go in, and in a very brief period of time, usually just a few days, we will set up shop and take orders from what we call recipient groups,” she said.

These recipient groups are schools or programs that have registered with First Book, and which service up to 70 percent of children from low income families. These groups are able to go online and select the books they’d like to receive.

The groups are generally school-related, but can also be a business, such as health clinics that serve in low income communities, or libraries where 70 percent of their visitors are below the poverty level.

“Anyone who says this is population they serve are able to sign up and receive books,” McCauley said.

First Book came to Detroit through a partnership among the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFT Michigan and First Book. According to Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, the AFT, which was holding its convention in Detroit the week of July 25, always likes to find a way to help the students in the community whose local is hosting the AFT convention.

Johnson also said reading is fundamental to learning for all students.

“The earlier we get them introduced to reading, the better they tend to do as they progress educationally,” he said. “So, we were very grateful that First Book was willing and able to make such a significant contribution and distribution of books for young people in Detroit.”

Johnson also believes the First Book program helps get reluctant readers to read. He said that with the closing of libraries, and the economic stresses that many families are experiencing, children don’t have the opportunity to get exposure to reading at an early age; or have books as readily available as we would like.

Brian Minter, director of communications with First book, said the organization distributed 450,000 brand new books.

“About two-thirds of them are going to schools and programs serving kids in need around the country, but one-third of them will be staying right there in the Detroit area, and they’ll be going home with kids in need,” Minter said.

He said they’re children’s books, of various subject matters and for a variety of ages up to 18.

“They’re mostly fiction; there’s a lot of picture books for younger children, but First Book doesn’t distribute any books for adults,” he said.

“We distribute books for little kids all the way through high school graduation, but that’s where it ends.”

First Book tries to get hold of the widest possible variety of children’s books. He also said books available through First Book are of the same quality as any book found in a book store.

In some cases, according to Minter, publishers will deliberately prints more books than they need to, in order to give the extras to First Book.

“We couldn’t do what we do without them,” he said.

Minter said there’s no limit on how many books a school or classroom can get.

“We really let the teachers decide how many books their program can absorb,” he said.

First Book operates around the country, but Minter said the organization has taken a special interest in Detroit. He said they try to put resources in Detroit whenever possible.

“We want to help all the terrific educators and non profit leaders who are doing such great work in Detroit, but we do work around the country,” he said.

McCauley is working to organize a small group of volunteers to create an advisory board in Detroit. She said that ties in with First Book’s second main program.

“We also have what’s called a First Book Market Place,” McCauley said. “The First Book Market Place is a place where these same recipient groups can go online and order books for up to 90 percent off the retail price.”

She said these are higher quality award-winning books, and that the average price of these books is roughly $2.50.

“I’m organizing an advisory group in Detroit that’s going to raise money and offer grants to local schools and programs there, so they can go to the Market Place and order the books they need to service their children,” McCauley said.

More information about First Book can be found at http://www.firstbook.org

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