January 2017 Issue
February 01, 2017

First books deliver million-dollar smiles

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Students at Frazer Pre-K–8 School in Syracuse receive their First Books in a December giveway for the holidays. More than 2,000 books were distributed. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: Students at Frazer Pre-K–8 School in Syracuse receive their First Books in a December giveway for the holidays. More than 2,000 books were distributed. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

This is the story of many, many books — 1.46 million of them over the last four years — that have traveled many, many miles across New York State. Their readers are students of every age who are given the books by educators, who receive the books from NYSUT, which obtains them via a partnership between the American Federation of Teachers and First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that puts books donated by publishing houses into the hands of children in need.

In 2016 alone, it was a $2.6 million story; the market value for almost 300,000 books NYSUT received by signing up enough educators and parents to earn four truckloads. The United Federation of Teachers, a NYSUT affiliate, qualified for three additional trucks under the direction of NYSUT Board member Anthony Harmon.

Each earned truckload carries about 43,000 books, said Paul Webster, NYSUT's director of community outreach who works with union and community leaders to get First Books for students in Title I schools.

"NYSUT is one of the most active state federations working with First Book and has been a leader in helping locals large and small get books into the hands of educators and families who need them," said Katie Donlevie, manager of education for First Book.

Qualified schools and programs can benefit from large-scale free truckload giveaways, or order low-cost books directly through First Book Marketplace (www.fbmarketplace.org). The marketplace offers more than 6,000 titles; tip sheets for parents and educators; school supplies; and new winter coats and items for basic hygiene needs.

"Local, state and national unions make an immense difference in increasing First Book's reach into underserved communities, schools and programs," Donlevie said.

Local unions that receive the books sort and distribute them in eagerly anticipated community giveaway events.

The Beekmantown Teachers Association earned seven pallets of books, about 12,000 titles, and held its first book bonanza giveaway in September for elementary students, followed by a fall community event, and then a high school December program. The books were stamped with "Book donated by the Beekmantown TA and NYSUT First Book." BTA President Pat Gallagher marveled at the students' responses: "They ask, 'I can keep this?' 'I get to pick any one I want?' The look on their faces ... It's awesome."

Erie County's Lake Shore Central TA members showed up in droves to sort 5,300 books for the "Literacy Across Lake Shore" event. Michele Amoia, third-grade teacher and First Book event co-chair with middle school science teacher Shannon Muldowney, called the event "great member engagement."

At the event, students chose five free books each; had their passports stamped; and visited literacy centers. Five lucky students won bookshelves made by Lockport Education Association member Danielle Hagen.

On Long Island, Nadia Resnikoff, a math teacher, NYSUT Board member and local president of the Middle Country TA, set up a First Book event near Thanksgiving.
"You really don't realize how wonderful it is until you experience it," she said. Like most First Book events, it took educators, School-Related Professionals and administrators to make it happen.

"Before we even opened there was a line out the door. That's when I cried," Resnikoff said. "Many families work three jobs. Some kids would never have a book of their own in their house."

Thanks to NYSUT's partnership with First Book, the story of many, many books is still being told — one page at a time.

For more info

Join the First Book/NYSUT Spring Truckload challenge

Locals that want to participate, by registering their local or by getting new signups within a local already registered, may contact Swinka Richards at srichard@nysutmail.org or 800-342-9810, ext. 6601. Pick-up locations will be in Central New York and the Capital Region.