“When we started the project, we thought we’d give away a few hundred books,” says board president Ann Katz. “But we’ve just grown and grown. Last year we gave away 125,000 books, and this year we’ll probably double that.”
Housed in Oakland’s Mosswood Recreation Center, the project distributes everything from board and picture books to chapter books, young adult fiction and nonfiction, and reference books. In the six hours the East Bay Children’s Book Project is open each week, its volunteers manage to give away an average of 5,000 books to Alameda County teachers, social workers, health care professionals, community outreach groups, housing authority employees, and police officers.
“Anyone who works with kids can come,” Katz says.
The books come from a variety of sources, including Berkeley’s Half Price Books (which donates 30 to 50 cases per week), publishers, authors, regular folks who want to pass on their now-grown-kids’ favorites, and book drives organized by church groups, schools, or clubs.
Katz gave away the project’s millionth book at an event Oct. 12 that boasted entertainers like the Prescott Circus Theatre and musicians Ariel and Mykah Montgomery, as well as authors and illustrators Daniel San Souci, Elisa Kleven, and Gary Soto. Books can be scarce for city kids, and encouraging children to read just doesn’t work if material isn’t available, Katz says.
“So many kids have never owned a book,” she says. “That’s why this project is so important.”