Bags of books

As the children of librarians, Carmen Winstead and Meredith Gladden aren't strangers to reading or to books.

"When we were growing up, we had a lot of books to read," Winstead said.
Not every young person in Catawba County is as fortunate.

That's why the two rising seniors at Fred T. Foard High School wanted to help spread reading and books to other young people. They orchestrated a book drive at Blackburn Elementary School that collected 2,948 youth and children's books.

"We thought that kids who didn't have as much as we do could have the opportunity to be able to read," Winstead said.

With school ending and summer starting, timing of the book collection couldn't have been better — nor could their choice of book donation recipients.

On Tuesday morning, Winstead and Gladden filled two cars with book-packed boxes and delivered nearly half their haul to The Corner Table soup kitchen in Newton. The other half of the nearly 3,000 books will go to the Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry and the Hickory Soup Kitchen.

"These kids probably couldn't go to the library and all the libraries are offering summer reading programs," Gladden said, adding this book drive helps create a summer reading program at two of the county's soup kitchens. "We wanted to give them a chance to read."

The donation came just as the bookshelves were going bare at The Corner Table, said manager Debbie Leatherman.

"Newton-Conover High School made bookshelves for us," she said of a pair of rolling shelves that bore light book loads Tuesday morning. "We collect books and people take them and read them. I am really excited because school is going to be out. These children just love books, and their parents can't afford to go buy them. This is a wonderful thing."

Children aren't the only ones enjoying the books. Although books collected came from Blackburn Elementary school students who responded to fliers Winstead and Gladden posted around the school, these youth books will also find an audience with adults.

"We are teaching a couple of people to read," Leatherman said of illiterate adults that Corner Table volunteers are trying to teach. "We use the children's books to teach them. They want to lean so they can help their children read. Right now, they can't help because they can't read themselves."

The rolling shelves filled with books often wait for patrons under the shelter at The Corner Table. Visitors are invited to pick up the books, take them home, and share them with others, Leatherman said. The Corner Table has even hosted a book club with about 30 participants, she said.

Book donations were collected at Blackburn Elementary for about two weeks. During that time, about half of the school's 730 students donated books, said Blackburn Media Specialist Susan Winstead, Carmen Winstead's mother.

"It was amazing," she said. "All they had to do was ask ,and the kids cleaned out their rooms."

After collecting the books, Winstead and Gladden spent a couple of days sorting the books into age ranges and placing portions of the collection into plastic bags. About 100 of those bags went to The Corner Table, and both girls said they were surprised by the response.

"It feels pretty good," said Meredith, daughter of Banoak Media Specialist Rebecca Gladden.