May 20, 2020
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A North Carolina literacy nonprofit takes storytime online

Even though COVID-19 has disrupted at-home visits and readings, Book Harvest hasn't slowed down and so far have sent over 5,000 books to kids' homes.

Book Harvest partnered with the local public school foundation to include books with the foundation's nutritious meals deliveries. The initiative is called Well Fed, Well Read. Photos courtesy of Book Harvest

Kids are out of school. Parents are home from work. At Book Harvest, a children’s literacy organization in North Carolina, we’re as concerned as ever about making sure all children and families have access to the books and literacy supports they need to thrive in school and in life. And we’re as committed as ever to our core values, including meeting families where they are. But how does that work when where families are—and where we are—is at home?

Just a few months ago, meeting children and parents where they are meant a team of home visitors making regular visits to Medicaid-eligible families with bags filled with brand new, diverse, age appropriate books, and providing support and literacy coaching to families as they build their children’s brains. It meant filling free bookshelves and leading storytimes in local laundromats and health clinics so that, while parents do laundry or families wait for doctor appointments, kids have the opportunity to keep learning. It meant preparing for huge free summer book fairs in all of our public schools; sending kids home for the summer break with backpacks filled with high quality, diverse books that they would choose themselves and keep forever; building home libraries that would fuel their love of learning all summer long; and helping them come back to school ready to learn in the fall.

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But if kids aren’t going to school, if parents and families are staying home and not welcoming visitors, how do we meet them where they are? That’s the question we set out to answer mid-March when stay-at-home orders changed everything.

Book Harvest's home visitors now make "visits" with parents and their children virtually.

First, we’re meeting parents where they are right now—online. Through Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and WhatsApp, our team of home visitors continues to join parents and their babies and toddlers as they read, talk, sing, and play. They are encouraging continued development of the early literacy skills that are so important in their children’s earliest years. We’re shipping books directly to families, so that kids and home visitors have matching sets of books to read together on either side of the screen. We’re hearing from parents of delighted kids who are surprised to find their favorite home visitors have the same books they do and can read along together, even from afar.

By partnering with our local public school foundation, we are making sure that even as kids’ bellies are filled with nutritious food, their minds are filled with nourishing stories.

We’re also engaging with partners who are delivering food to families and piggybacking on their efforts in an initiative called Well Fed, Well Read. By partnering with our local public school foundation, we are making sure that even as kids’ bellies are filled with nutritious food, their minds are filled with nourishing stories. Volunteers who are delivering shelf-stable groceries weekly to families who aren’t able to leave home are also providing bags of age-appropriate, culturally responsive, high quality, new and gently used books. Our goal is simple: to ensure that as many children as possible can have books to help keep their learning alive until schools reopen.

In the first six weeks after schools closed, we provided 4,938 books to children and families through these innovative strategies, and we conducted 54 virtual home visits. By the end of May, we expect to have sent at least 5,750 more books to their new homes, helping students and families start the summer out right with great stories to fuel their imaginations all summer long. And we continue to explore innovative partnerships with other local organizations who are providing emergency relief related to housing, food, healthcare, childcare, and refugee support, developing strategies for adding brain sustenance—stories!—to their critical, life sustaining services.

A mom of an eight-year-old recently shared with us why books are so important to her and her son during the quarantine: “We both can go wherever we like in the world, just by reading books.”

In spite of the quarantine keeping everyone at home this spring, Book Harvest is sending readers like this eight-year-old and his mom on amazing adventures—providing an escape and entertainment, and keeping learning alive.

Daniele Berman

Book Harvest

Daniele Berman is the Communications and Events Manager at Book Harvest, a Durham, North Carolina, nonprofit that provides books and literacy support to families and their children, ensuring that they become lifelong readers and learners.