September/October 2021 Issue
August 21, 2021

North Country students enjoy First Books

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
first book
Caption: From left, People Project volunteers Nicole Joly and Mary Wills present First Books to April Fullerton, Parishville-Hopkinton TA.

Lawrence County districts started off the school year with a new book thanks to a NYSUT First Book collaboration this summer.

Ogdensburg Teachers Association retiree Mary Wills coordinated a county-wide book distribution through her work with the St.

Lawrence County People Project, a union-led local coalition of educators and activists launched in 2016 to promote community education and economic security.

After sorting and dividing about 25 cases of new, free books by grade level and district need, the group hosted 12 back-to-school distribution events at schools throughout the end of August and start of September.

“Some events were held outside, some were drive-through pick-ups, and some took place in gyms, but all distributed free books and school supplies to community residents,” explained Wills, noting that thanks to an AFT grant, the group also purchased basic school supplies like pencils, erasers and masks through the First Book Marketplace.

“It’s wonderful to have NYSUT behind us in this venture to help ensure that each child has brand new quality literature to help them get excited about reading,” said Wills. “I’m proud to be a NYSUT member, and to help provide an equitable start to the school year for all of our students.”

NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham, whose office coordinates the union’s First Book initiative, noted that the average teacher spends about $500 a year on classroom supplies — including books.

“NYSUT is happy to help members bring the gift of reading to their students,” he said. “The First Book program is a great way for educators to get books into the hands of all students, regardless of where they live or their family’s socioeconomic status.”

In partnership with the nonprofit organization First Book Inc., and the American Federation of Teachers, its national affiliate, NYSUT provides low to no-cost books to high-need schools and nonprofits that serve low-income families and students in need. To learn more about the First Book program, or to get books for your school or program, register at