By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Sometimes a simple, good idea will reap big rewards. A group of sixth graders at St. Charles Borromeo School discovered that a few weeks ago, and are still amazed.
The students, members of a book club sponsored by the school, wanted to take on a leadership role among their schoolmates, as well as share their love of books with others.
Maybe give books to children who had none? After all, book club member Ryan Barber said, “We all like to read. It’s brain power!”
They brought their ideas to Mary Omecene, principal of St. Charles, who suggested collecting books to give to children who visit the parish food pantry with their parents. The book club grabbed the suggestion and ran with it.
The kids had participated in many of the food drives sponsored four times each year by the parish school to stock the food pantry shelves. They borrowed the drive idea and decided to hold a book drive to collect books for food pantry clients with children.
Omecene reminded the book club that the project was theirs and they would have to get the word out, promote it and manage it.
The club members, Maddie McCormick, Ryan, Chelsie Shepherd, Grace Laird, Brian Hennessy, Marisa Thomas, Justin Galang, Stephanie Pearson and Tomas Park, decided that before they did anything else, the book drive needed a name.
“We all had ideas,” Brian said. “We wanted something that would relate to the food pantry. I came up with Feed Your Mind and everybody liked it.”
Armed with a name for their book drive, the kids made posters and hung them around the school, went to every classroom and spoke about the “Feed Your Mind” drive, and even spoke at every Mass at St. Charles Church one weekend. Bins were placed around the school and in the church vestibule. The book club set a goal of collecting 300 books, and offered an incentive to their school mates.
Chelsie said, “We held a contest. The class that brought in the most books during the two week collection time would get a pizza party and an out of uniform day. Mrs. Omecene said that would get everybody interested!”
Books started coming in, piling up and up. In a very short time, the drive had surpassed its goal and the books had to be stored in a storage closet near the food pantry to prevent avalanches of books from tables and shelves.
One Friday when the rest of the school was dismissed at noon, the book club began the task of sorting and counting the books, a 4-hour job. In the middle of counting, they had an opportunity to see some fruits of their labor. Several families brought children when visiting the food pantry and the sixth graders handed out a few of the books to them.
Chelsie said, “It was fun. We gave a two-year old girl a copy of The Little Mermaid. She was so excited, she hugged the book! Another little girl got a copy of Rainbow Fish. She spoke English, and her parents didn’t so she started reading the book to them, translating it into Spanish while they were getting their food.”
Maddie added, “The kids are all real excited, and so are their parents and grandparents.”
When the counting and sorting were done the tally showed that assistant principal Pam Serrone’s eighth grade class brought in 1,200 books. Within the two week time limit “Feed Your Mind” collected 1,868 books. And still the books came. “We received 134 books after the deadline,” Maddie said.
The book club, a brain-child of Chelsie and Maddie, is still in its first year. Chelsie said, “We both like to read, and one day we started talking about clubs and decided we’d like to start a book club.” Facilitated by Lisa Wade McCormick, Maddie’s mother, a children’s author and St. Charles School volunteer, the club meets once a week, during lunch and recess.
Omecene said she was impressed by and proud of the book club and the “Feed Your Mind” book drive. “Here at St. Charles,” she said, “we hold four food drives yearly, like the soup-er bowl drive during Catholic Schools Week, to stock our food pantry and help out Bishop Sullivan Center. Catholic Teaching on social justice tells us that everyone has the right to clothing, food, shelter and, yes, reading. Our students get it. All of their service projects are done in a spirit of sharing.”
The food pantry is open three afternoons each week and books will be handed out to children throughout the summer, Omecene said. “We’ll let our food pantry patrons know we have age appropriate children’s books if they want for their children at home. We may be able to share some of the books with Bishop Sullivan Center at the end of the summer.”
Chelsie nodded decidedly. “We’ll do this again, both the book club and the book drive.” Eight other heads nodded. “I was afraid at first that we wouldn’t get very many books,” said Tomas, “maybe 100. But we received so many!”
Justin said he was proud of helping put books in the food pantry for the children. More nods and smiles from a group of sixth graders who wanted to share one of their loves with children in poverty, a love of books.