As a mother, Anne Keenan recalls taking her children to the Upper Dublin library every week to pick out a new book.
Today, Keenan thinks children in Philadelphia are growing up without this same opportunity.
“I remember watching the Diane Sawyer documentary [‘A Hidden Amerca, Children of the Mountains’] and seeing a child that grew up in a house without books and I thought, ‘That’s just unacceptable,’” said Keenan, an Ambler, Pennsylvania resident. “I knew I need to do something about it.”
In 2009, Keenan created Reading Recycled, a nonprofit, Philadelphia-based organization that strives to help all children grow up with books in their homes.
Two years later, she began officially collecting and distributing books.
“Children have no one to read them a story, and I’m trying to help children whose parents won’t take them to the library,” she said.
Keenan has collected, cleaned, sorted and boxed up about 11,000 books for children and families since the start of her organization.
“The need for books has been growing,” said Keenan’s husband, David. “Our living room is floor-to-ceiling books.”
David helps Keenan by delivering books with her to local organizations that then distribute them to children in need.
One organization that Reading Recycled has donated books to is Dignity Housing, a nonprofit that provides housing and services for low-income families.
“Most of the children that reside at Dignity are being raised by a single mother and many were living in emergency shelters,” said Jessica Blum, developmental coordinator at Dignity Housing.
Every month Keenan delivers personalized birthday bags for children at Dignity Housing. Last year, Keenan delivered 93 total birthday bags to children in need.
“Coming from emergency shelters often means the children had to leave most of their belongings behind, and the personalized Reading Recycled bags mean the world to them,” Blum said.
While Reading Recycled normally operates within the local Philadelphia area, Keenan recently stumbled upon a national story that caught her attention.
“I have a friend that lives in Seattle, and for some reason a news story popped up of a police officer cradling a woman that just found out her daughter had died in an accident,” Keenan said. “My husband is a retired police officer and my son is a police officer, so it drew me in.”
Joseph Sumpter, whose father died in the same accident, became the subject of one of Keenan’s donations. Sumpter’s father died, just about a month before his 14th birthday.
“I reached out to his mother, Barnes & Noble and the Seattle Seahawks because I knew I wanted to do something special for him,” she said.
Keenan put together a birthday basket to fit Sumpter’s interests. This included Seattle Seahawks memorabilia, a Nook and seven books.
“I was just really proud of that moment, that I could do that for him,” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes.”
This summer Keenan will attend events handing out books on the spot and giving out cards for families to reach out and request books.
“I know it’s working and kids like it,” she added. “That’s why I want to start going to more events to see the reaction.”
Recently, Keenan reached out to the Philadelphia Police Department to initiate a collaborative book donation program. So far, she’s received positive reception from four districts.
“I’m really excited to go to a lot of their events that are coming up,” Keenan said. “I often don’t get to see the children, so I’ll do a craft with them.”
“I believe Anne has really found herself and that meaning of being happy is giving children books,” David Keenan said.
Madison Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.