The College of Education accumulated 600 books so far and will surpass 2008’s 800-book donation.
When packages marked with Amazon logos arrived at Ritter Annex, Tiffany Tavarez already knew what was inside.
The boxes were packed with books donated by people with connections to the university as part of the Temple Alumni Association and College of Education annual holiday book drive.
Tavarez, the assistant director of alumni affairs at the College of Education, has been busy for the last several days tracking packages, unpacking boxes and categorizing books by title into neat stacks.
So far, the College of Education collected nearly 600 books, as more continue to arrive daily.
The books, which will be collected until Dec. 10, will be evenly distributed among some of North Philadelphia’s most under-resourced elementary schools, including Paul L. Dunbar School, General George G. Meade School, Tanner Duckrey School and Joseph C. Ferguson School. Children in third, fourth and fifth grades will receive at least one new book during this holiday season.
“These are some of the poorest schools in the city, and [Temple] continues to be involved by building relationships with each one of them,” said Valerie Gay, the assistant dean and director of development and alumni affairs for the College of Education.
This year’s fourth-annual book drive is a joint effort with College of Education’s alumni office and the Temple Alumni Association’s Community Service Committee, chaired by Len Mellman, a 1949 graduate. Much of the work and resources are credited to Mellman for his devotion to the alumni outreach in local Philadelphia areas, including schools in the district.
For organizers and many volunteers who collect and distribute books, seeing smiles on children’s faces is the reward.
“The first year, we took photos of kids’ reactions when they got their books, and we still crack up every time we see those pictures,” Tavarez said. “They get so excited.”
Kate Kemery, assistant director of the Office of Alumni Relations, said she remembers a humorous moment last year when one alumnus read a scary story from a donated book to children who gathered around to listen. As the reader delivered the story about a giant monster being set free from captivity, one little boy suddenly stood up on his feet at the climax of the story and yelled, “Free at last, free at last!”
“I don’t know if they understand about whom and where these books are coming from, but I know that they’re excited, and they’re at that age – they love to be read to. They love books,” Kemery said.
Because many schools do not have official libraries and teachers are often forced to build their own collections with money from their own pockets, trying to teach required curriculum with a limited amount of books can be a difficult task. This is where Temple’s alumni step in to help with needed resources. Last year, the book drive collected more than 800 new books for partnership schools. Tavarez said she’s certain this year’s drive will outgrow last year’s.
Some College of Education employees said they’re concerned about the quality of education at area schools because many fall behind in progress testing.
“We’re working really hard at College of Education to deal head on with issues like literacy. The literacy rates are not where we would like [them] to be, and I think this is just simply a small step for very long term project,” Tavarez said. “So it’s a matter of making sure that Temple is visible, that we’re not just their neighbor, but that we do care and that we’re invested.”
All donations are being made online using Amazon’s wish list feature. The 15 titles selected for this year’s donations include classics like James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Stuart Little by E.B. White and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Tavarez said she would like to collect at least 40 copies of each of the 15 wish-listed titles.
Tavarez said she often receives books with thank-you notes inside, as well as ideas for titles for next year’s book drive. She said not only alumni members get into the spirit of giving during this time of year, but also faculty, current students and their parents. In a few weeks when they will finally be delivering the books, Tavarez said she encourages anyone to volunteer their time.
“I could imagine seeing a donor sitting at home and thinking what happens from here, where do [the books] go? So a lot of times, we encourage folks to come and actually see that the books are going somewhere,” she said.
Kemery, who graduated from Fox School of Business in 2006 with degree in marketing, now runs regional Temple alumni clubs in eight cities across the county. She said she is inspired by alumni’s involvement with the university even after they graduate.
“It never ceases to amaze me how willing Temple alums are to become a part of their community,” she said. “Most of them don’t even see these books being delivered, but they still want to give back.”
Sergei Blair can be reached at sergei.blair@ temple.edu.