Students in 8 schools get free books thanks to South Jersey teacher's nonprofit

Mike DeNardo
June 07, 2019 - 4:00 am
Students at eight South Jersey schools are getting free books Friday thanks to a nonprofit that collects donations from the "haves" to benefit the "have nots."

Mike DeNardo/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Students at eight South Jersey schools are getting free books Friday thanks to a nonprofit that collects donations from the "haves" to benefit the "have nots."  

It's book fair day for eight elementary schools in the Camden, Lindenwold, Vineland and Glassboro school districts, sponsored by the nonprofit BookSmiles.  

The idea for BookSmiles was born several years ago when Lindenwold High School English teacher Larry Abrams asked one of his students, a teen mother from Mexico with a 2-year-old, what books she was reading to her young daughter.  

She said she wasn't.

"I then asked her, 'Why aren't you reading to your child?' And she said, 'Oh, Mr. Abrams, we don't do that in my culture.' And then my heart broke," Abrams said.

So Abrams gave her books and started gathering them for other students and eventually, other schools.  

Related: Elementary program that lets kids choose, own books expands to entire district

BookSmiles collects books from students in affluent districts whose parents might donate them to libraries or give them to Goodwill and distributes them in needy schools, which is what's happening Friday for about 5,000 students.

"When we give those books to the kids, we say the only thing you have to pay is a smile," he said. 

Over the last  2 1/2 years, BookSmiles has distributed 115,000 books from infant baby board books to middle school books. 

Abrams has been running BookSmiles from his garage but says next month, the program is moving into a Cherry Hill warehouse thanks to a donation that's helping to pay the rent.

The free books are available Friday for students at the Katz Dalsey Academy, Cooper's Poynt Family School and the Mastery Molina Lower School in Camden; Lindenwold Elementary Schools #4 and #5; Sabater and Mennies Elementary Schools in Vineland; and Thomas E. Bowe Elementary School in Vineland.