In Spring 2020, BookSmiles’ Executive Director Larry Abrams knocked on the door of the Food Bank of South Jersey with an idea. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and book donations were still flowing into BookSmiles—especially because libraries had stopped accepting donations at the time—but teachers were no longer able to come into the Book Bank in Cherry Hill to pick them up. What if the Food Bank of South Jersey and BookSmiles joined forces to distribute food and books at once? “After all, the areas of need for our organizations overlap,” Abrams says.
BookSmiles began supplying the Food Bank of South Jersey with thousands of new and gently-used books each month to distribute along with food packages, according to Abrams. The partnership was so successful that he decided it could be replicated and expanded, so he connected with Cat Bartoli, Deputy Chief Program Officer at Share Food Program, in January of 2022. Since then, Share and BookSmiles have delivered 496 cases—that’s over 44,000 books—to kids and families throughout the Philadelphia region.
The partnership works well on the operations side because it is built on Share’s existing food distribution infrastructure: BookSmiles delivers crates of books to Share’s warehouse, and Share then distributes those books to interested partner pantries, to SNAP-Ed instructors for classes, and to Share Food Program’s Philly Food Rescue to make book deliveries alongside their food deliveries. And the partnership works well for folks accessing resources because they’re able to pick up books from places they’re already going, like a SNAP-Ed class, a food pantry, or a mutual aid hub in their neighborhood:
“We send out books the same way we send out food. We work with a lot of community fridges that also have community libraries, and with the back-to-school events, it has been nice to be able to offer books to give out. And then there are the goals of individual people and organizations to help enrich their communities in whatever way they can–like wanting to start their own libraries–that we are able to support through the BookSmiles partnership.
Philly Food Rescue’s whole thing is mutual aid style – take what you need, give what you can. A lot of our focus is providing access points to food (and now books) at places where people are already going in their communities, where people are already seeking support or community engagement – it’s affordable housing, it’s senior housing, pop up mutual aid distributions, parks, places where people cook and share meals. We’re trying to break down as many of the barriers as possible that restrict people from having access to the food and other resources that they need and deserve.”Britt Korn, Philly Food Rescue Recovery Coordinator
“The books sent by BookSmiles and Share Food Program are distributed with the weekly food pantry bags, and the families were excited to receive new books for the kids.”Lesslie Harrison, True Vine Ministries (Delaware County Pantry Network)
“Being able to help families through SNAP-Ed is such important work, to say the least, but now, partnered with BookSmiles, I have been able to serve families differently than I have before. Being able to encourage health physically as well as mentally has truly taken my service just one step further. Students are ALWAYS happy to see that they can get whatever book from the box that they want, except manga. If possible I would request manga for students. It is the one request from students that I haven’t been able to fulfill. Thanks so much for all you do BookSmiles!”Keliah Riley, SNAP-Ed Program Coordinator at Share Food Program
As Riley sees firsthand at SNAP-Ed, kids having options and being able to choose their own books is key in building positive associations with reading. Across demographics, the majority of kids (89 percent) agree their favorite books are the ones that they have picked out themselves, and 88 percent say they are more likely to finish a book they have picked out themselves (Kids & Family Reading Report 2019).
Both Share and BookSmiles are growing their capacity this year: Share’s Philly Food Rescue will be expanding their food access and food justice education, and BookSmiles is in the process of moving into a new, larger facility. With increased capacity, Share and BookSmiles will continue working toward their collective goal: to break down barriers to folks’ ability to both access and choose resources that nourish their bodies and minds.
If you have books to donate (manga in particular!), BookSmiles will resume accepting book donations on September 6, 2022.
More about BookSmiles
BookSmiles is a non-profit organization promoting literacy and the joy of reading by distributing new and gently-used books to children and families throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey. Educators – especially those representing Title I schools – can receive books for classroom libraries, for students to keep at home and for pop-up book fairs.
More about Philly Food Rescue at Share Food Program
Philly Food Rescue works to rescue fresh, perishable food before it goes to waste and strives to provide service without burden, dispatching donations to local communities and organizations so that surplus becomes wholesome meals on our neighbors’ tables the very same day the foods are offered for donation.
More about SNAP-Ed
Share Food Program provides support to Philadelphia-based schools among three partners offering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed). Through this program, Share provides access to fresh produce at school sites, connects families with its pantry network for additional food resources at no cost, and teaches students about healthy foods.