Not even a global pandemic can stall pupils, professionals and community supporters from distributing more books to San Antonio Independent School District learners.
The SAISD Foundation’s Book Buddies program is rolling out its version of the nationwide Little Free Library displays to benefit kindergarten through eighth grade students, allowing kids — and even adults — to find age-appropriate books at no charge outdoors at neighborhood campuses.
“What I love about this effort is how it brings so many people together. It involves students both on the creation side and the receiving side,” said Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
In 2014, SAISD Foundation volunteer Jane Welch founded the Book Buddies concept of providing volumes at no cost, which today has led to the creation of the little libraries.
SAISD Foundation Executive Director Judy Geelhoed said Book Buddies is just one way the district and her organization help address childhood literacy and access to quality reading material.
Nearly 90% of students in SAISD, a Title I school district, are economically disadvantaged. According to the foundation, many schoolchildren where the program is active come from living arrangements where books are scarce.
Making them available at no charge sparks and increases a child’s interest in reading at their residence, Geelhoed said.
“Not many kids have books at home, so it’s a way for them to start their own library at home,” she added.
Book Buddies organizes drives to collect children’s books in and around San Antonio. An international reseller, Better World Books, has donated tens of thousands.
The little-library idea is an extension of the Book Buddies system, but with a twist. Staff from a campus may contact the foundation to request one.
Students at Lanier High School’s construction program use donated materials to build mini-libraries, which are then painted and decorated by pupils at each institution.
Teachers and foundation volunteers contribute some of the first books, and assist with beautification. The resulting creations are customized with different colors and themes.
Geelhoed said letting youngsters assemble or put finishing touches on a little library makes them feel part of a worthy cause, which ultimately benefits the community.
“When you build with a purpose, it makes things even better,” Geelhoed added.
Lanier construction students produce about five depots a month. The first was delivered before the holiday break to Herff Academy, where eighth graders worked outdoors to personalize the repository.
January saw deliveries to Franklin, De Zavala and Margil elementary schools, plus Bowden Academy, where learners spent time outside giving theirs a beach theme.
The foundation plans to install several more libraries by the end of the school year, including at Mission and Steele Montessori academies.
“It’s been a really great opportunity to bring (Book Buddies) to more students,” Geelhoed said.
While the initiative focuses on school-age kids, residents are welcome to take reading material, too. The foundation also encourages donations of authentic Spanish-language books for children and adults.
“This is our opportunity to serve the extended community,” Geelhoed said.
COVID-19 has forced the foundation to slightly change its allocation process. With no book fairs, for example, the organization partners with SAISD transportation, library services and facilities employees to safely make distributions to families.
The foundation’s Book Buddies program plans to serve a total of 35 kindergarten through eighth grade campuses and early-childhood centers by the end of the academic year.
SAISD officials said the initiative is invaluable.
“The little libraries are being handcrafted by construction-science students at Lanier High School and the beneficiaries are our younger learners,” Martinez said. “The teamwork continues with the SAISD Foundation, our educators and facilities team ensuring the libraries are installed on campuses, stocked with books and painted to match a campus theme.”
District 3 trustee Debra Guerrero described the depositories as community hubs, which have also become neighborhood pantries during the coronavirus outbreak.
“I believe these little libraries help build better and healthier communities,” Guerrero said.
“I encourage anyone who wants to support this initiative to reach out to the SAISD Foundation to learn more about volunteer opportunities, such as sorting children’s books by age groups, which then fills these little libraries with more reading adventures for our little ones,” she added.
For more, visit https://www.saisdfoundation.com/book-buddies.