Ready, Set, Read!

By Dana Greenblatt, AmeriCorps VISTA

For volunteers who arrived early Sunday morning to set up the Community Book Swap at the Santa Fe Place Mall, it seemed as if the stream of book boxes being unloaded would never end!

While the majority of books from the March swap were generated from donation boxes placed in local schools, facilitating book collections during the summer months for the Reading Group’s August 5 swap, required a more creative approach. Thanks to AmeriCorps VISTA perseverance in outreach to local businesses, libraries, youth centers, nonprofits and generous families, The Reading Group was able to collect thousands of books for the swap in a matter of two months. After loading, transporting and unloading books for several hours, twelve tables over-flowed with books ready for new homes.

Following the success of the April Community Book Swap, the Santa Fe Place Mall generously welcomed back The Reading Group to host the swap in the food court once again. Planned strategically for Tax Free weekend, August’s swap attracted throngs of curious passersbys who were buzzing through the packed Mall. In addition to the families who were surprised to come across the book display amidst their back to school shopping, other folks had seen or heard advertisements for the event and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to find some new summer reads for their family. Some families even brought books they had received at the previous swap to trade in for a bag filled with new titles.

A father who, in April, occupied the reading nook with his son, returned with his entire family to search out new reads! In addition to families, there was a couple staying at the Esperanza Shelter who happened upon the Book Swap and took it upon themselves to pick out several books to share with the children staying at the shelter. This gesture of kindness is representative of our Santa Fe community and particularly of the warmth and openness amongst the nonprofit community.

Throughout the course of the day, the roughly twenty volunteers staffing this event assisted youth and families as they searched through stacks of baby, bilingual, picture, nonfiction, comic, bilingual, early reader and chapter books. Whether it was adventure, humor, history, science or a bedtime story that swap–goers were in pursuit of, everyone was able to find a stack of books they were excited to take home. Between 11:30am and 5:00pm over 1,800 books were distributed to nearly 500 grateful children, young adults and parents.

The swap also serves as an opportunity to generate enthusiasm around reading and encourages families to spend time reading together. For The Reading Group, putting books into the homes of families who may not otherwise have access is just one of the ways in which they are working to improve literacy levels among youth in Santa Fe. Comprised of organizations and individuals who are experts in education, The Reading Group believes that we have a much greater chance of addressing this issue as a city-wide collaborative effort than through the work of any one organization individually. Although improving one of the poorest youth literacy rates in the country is no small task, this group of committed individuals has taken the challenge head on and is working towards results.

Thank you to the Santa Fe Place Mall and support from across the Santa Fe community that made this event a huge success. Keep your eyes out for our next Community Book Swap, it will be right around the corner!