On the brink of reaching two million books collected, processed and distributed to at-risk children from infants through sixth grade, Bernie’s Book Bank organizers thanked their youngest volunteers with a fun-filled party at the organization’s processing center in Lake Forest on Saturday, Nov. 16.
“The reason why we want to celebrate today is really to celebrate volunteerism and, in particular, to celebrate you, our smallest volunteers,” Bernie’s founder and Executive Director Brian Floriani told the crowd.
More than 125 youngsters and their families from across Lake County signed up for the two-hour event at the organization’s processing center, located at 28101 Ballard Drive in Lake Forest, to kick off a series of Volunteer Appreciation Weeks.
Saturday’s event — complete with cupcakes, Radio Disney dancing and an official Bernie’s donation book bag for all — served as both a thank you for past help and a recruiting effort to keep the momentum going.
“We need you,” Floriani said. “We need you to multiply.”
The organization’s leaders hope to reach one million books donated, processed and distributed in 2013 alone, which will push the organization’s total to two million books since it began operating in 2009.
“Our job is to make sure all children own books,” Floriani said.
The organization collects, processes and distributes anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 new and gently-used books a week to make sure more than 75,000-plus children receive 12 books a year.
“All that processing happens right here,” Floriani said in the warehouse, where the guests applied Bernie’s Book Bank stickers to picture, story and chapter books sorted by reading level on large tables set in rows.
“Our next goal is to be collecting, processing and distributing four million books a year by 2016,” he said. “The reason that number is important is by doing that we’ll be serving every child that needs us.”
Reaching that next level will require more help from the 500 to 750 volunteers who help out every month, as well as plenty of newcomers.
“Volunteers are absolutely key,” Jill Rosenberg, director of communications and marketing, said. “They are the lifeblood of what we do.”
Aileen Traynor of Northbrook has volunteered for Bernie’s for the past three years since first reading about the organization in a Pioneer Press article.
A Girl Scout Brownie leader at the time, Traynor switched gears from getting her middle daughter’s troop involved to then spreading the word at local schools, helping them organize book drives for Bernie’s Book Bank.
She’s even started suggesting book drives for Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah projects and to anyone who is looking for a worthy cause.
“I cannot get over how this has grown,” Traynor said, who brought her daughter Kiley and a friend Mandi Stoneburner, both 8, to Saturday’s celebration. Both girls have participated in book drives for Bernie’s, but Saturday’s visit marked their entrée to the processing center.
“Coming to the sorting center, that’s the best part,” Aileen Traynor said.
Taylor Jensen, 9, a fourth-grader at Half Day School in Lincolnshire, said it was hard at first to believe some children don’t have books of their own.
“I’ve got about a hundred books just in my room,” Taylor said.
Owning books, she believes, is important for every child.
“Books help kids learn to read, then they can learn to write and spell just by being a good reader,” she said.
Taylor and her friend Julia Surane, 10, also of Lincolnshire, volunteered at the processing center over the summer, and their school’s Student Council is hosting a Bernie’s book drive this month.
“We thought the party would be fun,” Julia said. “It’s a really nice organization.”
After viewing a four-minute video that showcased a book distribution at a Waukegan school and the reactions of students, Adina Bard, 7, of Highland Park was inspired to continue her efforts.
A three-time processing-center volunteer, Adina said watching the video made her feel good.
“Some kids didn’t have books and now they have books,” Adina said. “I’ll come back, because I like to help and want to make sure more kids have books.”
Adina’s reaction is not usual, Rosenberg said.
“Kids really get it,” she said. “When they hear there are kids who don’t have books and need books, they want to help.”
Bernie’s welcomes volunteers of all ages and abilities. Volunteers can come as individuals, families, groups, sports teams, organizations or corporations.
“The idea is to be flexible,” Rosenberg said.
For more information, go to www.berniesbookbank.org, call or text 847-780-7323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org