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Kids Need Books is sidelined until the COVID-19 crisis abates. In the meantime, here’s a story from last year.

The temperature hovered at the freezing mark and ghostly tendrils of morning fog floated above the hemlocks and cedars. I eased my car in front of St. Peter’s Catholic Church six miles east of Deming. It was not 7:30 AM and a long line of local residents waited silently outside for the doors to open and the Foothills Food Bank distribution and community breakfast to begin.

Today I would hand out books as well with Kids Need Books (KNB). Ro, my usual Deming helper, battled cancer and the toxic effects of chemotherapy, so she was not able to accompany me.

Within an hour I had set up seven long tables—covering the surface of each with books— inside the foyer. Moments later the food bank opened for business and folks streamed into the church hall. A dozen people immediately came over to the KNB tables and began selecting coloring books and crayons, board books, early readers and other reading material. More individuals made their way into the foyer and perused the book selection, filling bags with picture books, novels, and non-fiction reads.

After an hour of frenetic activity, there was a lull in the action and I worked at restocking the nearly depleted tables. A dark-haired woman, who was perhaps thirty years old, stood by a table of middle grade reading material. She picked up a novel about horses and studied it carefully.

“May I help you?” I asked.

She smiled and shook her head. “You already have.”

“Really? How so?”

“I’ve got a daughter in fifth grade. She’s a sweet girl but was never much of a reader—way behind the other kids in her class. So, you see, I never even used to come in here and look at these books. Figured my daughter wouldn’t be able to read them, wouldn’t be interested.”

She swept a strand of hair from her eyes and continued. “Then, about three months ago, I decided to give it a try. I found a series of books about a magic kitten. And when I brought those books home, they were magic, almost like a key that opened a stubborn, rusted lock. That night there was a reading frenzy in our house. I couldn’t get my little girl to go to sleep. She read way past her normal bedtime and got up early to finish the book before her bus came.”

The woman paused and took a deep breath. “Soon my daughter finished reading the whole series and I came back here and got a bag of books about puppies and horses and other animals. She read those. All of them. Then last week my daughter’s teacher phoned me.” The woman paused and swallowed hard. “Said my girl wasn’t behind in reading. Had caught up with the other kids and was moving ahead.”

The woman is weeping now. Sobbing.

She waits a moment to catch her breath, wipes away tears with the back of her hand. “I have no money to buy books.” Her eyes meet mine. “But you people give them to me. You give me books. You have no idea how much that means.”

Kids Need Books runs on donations and is part of the non-profit Interfaith Coalition. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

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