During the coronavirus pandemic, Lorrie Stapleton, a volunteer at Darien Book Aid Plan, has been responsible for getting free books into the hands of hundreds of children in need.

Background

In February, children at Tokeneke Elementary School in Darien collected nearly 6,000 children’s books during a book drive organized by the school’s student council, to benefit Darien Book Aid Plan.

Darien Book Aid Plan is a nonprofit, all volunteer organization that sends hand selected books in response to specific requests from Peace Corps volunteers, libraries and schools all over the world.

Pandemic

While Darien Book Aid Plan was able to send a lot of the books from the book drive oversees, once the coronavirus pandemic came, everything was forced to shut down and Darien Book Aid could no longer send out the Tokeneke donations.

“Since Darien Book Aid was closed, we could no longer have volunteers sort books and fulfill the requests from the Peace Corp volunteers,” said Stapleton, a Greenwich resident. “In addition, most of the Peace Corp volunteers who order the books for children oversees had been pulled back home, so we had no place to mail the books.”

“We also can’t accept any new books until we have a distribution network for them, ” she added.

Since there were no places to send the books overseas, Stapleton began looking for domestic organizations in need of books. The Tokeneke donations were in excellent condition, she said.

She recently delivered nearly 600 books to New Haven Reads and 200 books to the United Way in Greenwich, for their family center’s early childcare programs.

Books4Everyone, book swaps

Aside from volunteering at Darien Book Aid Plan, Stapleton is also the founder of Books4Everyone.org, a volunteer organization that promotes literacy in Fairfield County by providing a matchmaking service between people who have excess kids books and those who need them.

Additionally, she runs the Holly Hill Book Swap in Greenwich. While the book swap is currently closed due to the pandemic, she has been distributing children’s books from the book swap supply to Connecticut children who qualify for free food assistance.

The free lunch programs in school districts in Stamford and Greenwich are still on every day, even though school has closed. Several times a week, Stapleton drops off books at those sites, and to date, has provided those locations with about 1,000 books.

Additionally, she delivers book to the Boy’s & Girl’s Club in Stamford and the Lighthouse Program in Bridgeport, which provide students with a safe and supportive environment after school and during the summer. She has also provided about 600 books to the New Lebanon School in Greenwich.

Community giving and sharing

Stapleton has organized a book collection and swap in her own neighborhood. She and fellow residents have “cleaned out our attics, basements, and kids’ closets,” Stapleton said. “Everybody in town has children’s books they’d love to take somewhere and can’t.”

All the books are sent to Stapleton’s home.

“I keep a library cart in front of my house with six shelves of children’s books. Kids come by and get books, and parents come by with books to donate,” she said.

Additionally, while local libraries have been closed, some residents utilize Stapleton’s book swap as a library. They borrow and donate books of their own, for their neighbors to read.

She said she’s constantly on the lookout for organizations that need free children’s books.

Stapleton said she would encourage everyone to have neighborhood book swaps.

“Books are a way to bring the community together. It’s great to get to know your neighbors by sharing all your favorite used books,” she said. “I’ve had some fascinating conversations with local 8 year olds who love to read and want to talk about books.”

Stapleton continued: “Taking the books to needy schools and organizations is so rewarding. The kids there want to read all the same books and have the same excitement as our children, but don’t have the same opportunity to have full book cases at home. It’s wonderful to help them build their own libraries.”

Resources

For more information on the Darien Book Aid Plan, visit darienbookaid.org

For more information on Books4Everyone, visit books4everyone.org

sfox@darientimes.com