Do you remember how much you loved having stories read to you when you were a child? Do you have fond memories of being lost in the pages of a favorite picture book that took you away on a lovely journey? Many children are fortunate enough to have this experience daily to enrich their early years. But too many others, here in our local community, lack access to the joy and the solace of quality children’s books shared with them. Thanks to Literacy Volunteers of Waldo County, this will change.

Literacy Volunteers has joined up with FOOD, the Feeding Opportunities & Outreach Directive, a multi-agency collaborative effort led by WaldoCAP as a lead partner and sponsor of the Federal Child Nutrition Summer Food Service Program. This initiative was begun in 2019 under the direction of the Community Food for Children Committee (CFFC), which includes Belfast Public Health Nursing, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, WaldoCAP, members of Belfast Garden Club, Literacy Volunteers, and other interested community volunteers.

Waldo County Technical Center has become a new community partner, offering its facility as a base for several functions, including food preparation and storage. Mid-Coast Transportation will provide food delivery to nine sites in Belfast, Searsport, Swanville, and Stockton Springs.

The FOOD distribution program will run for eight weeks, from July 6 to Aug. 27, visiting every Monday (distributing three days of breakfast & lunch meals) and Thursday (distributing four days of breakfast & lunch meals), serving an estimated 75-100 children each day. Volunteers will be packing and delivering the food and providing enrichment activities. Protocols for social distancing and safety will be strictly adhered to.

Educational enrichment activities are offered by a team that includes Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition (with award-winning Natural Literacy educator in the schools, Jenni Judkins), the Restorative Justice Project, Literacy Volunteers, and members of the Belfast Garden Club. The team will provide an activity of the day at each neighborhood site, including a community circle to check in with the kids and see how they are doing during these isolating times, and a read-aloud of stories about growing veggies to make a stew, taking a nature walk, making friends, or resolving a conflict. Families will be given take-home resources that include books, recipe and menu cards, a baby oak tree seedling, a one-page “Making Friends with Nature” workbook, and related handouts. The goal of the education team is to inform and inspire families to take time this summer to practice healthy nutrition, communicate about feelings, experience the joys of reading aloud and of getting outside to enjoy the natural world.

The Literacy Volunteers Book Drive seeks to meet the needs of children who, due to the pandemic, have not been in the classroom where books are shared and read aloud on a daily basis. Last year, LVWC led a book drive for children of asylum seekers in Portland, which resulted in over 200 books being distributed. This summer, volunteers want to replicate this drive to benefit area families.

Why does this book drive matter? According to Scholastic, “summer setback” often has its greatest impact on children from low-income families. During the summer, their reading achievement typically declines by an average of three months (McGill-Franzen & Arlington, 2003). “The absence of regular classroom attendance due to the pandemic, added to this summer setback, makes this an especially important time to get books and reading aloud into the lives of families,” said Denise Pendleton, coordinator of Literacy Volunteers. “Because reading aloud also strengthens relationship bonds by giving opportunities for quality conversation about feelings, facts, friendships and more, we are choosing titles that foster social and emotional skills and encourage exploration of the natural world.”

Literacy Volunteers hopes other community members will want to join this effort to provide the pleasure and power of children’s books that can give joy and hope to these families through upcoming months of uncertainty and disruption of routines caused by the pandemic.

Literacy Volunteers is grateful for a partnership with Waldo County Technical Center, which is providing a collection site for donated books. Those who wish to purchase new books online to donate can have them sent directly to the Waldo County Technical Center, 1022 Waldo Road in Waldo, ME 04915, with “Attention: LVWC Book Drive.” Book donations may also be dropped off at the front office there between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, from July 8–Aug. 12. Books will be quarantined for one week before delivery to neighborhood families by volunteers.

For more information about how to contribute to the book drive, either by donating or purchasing books from a list of recommended titles or by providing a monetary contribution, please contact Denise Pendleton, coordinator of Literacy Volunteers at 207-338-3197 or dpendleton@rsu71.org.