By Jessica Connor
As the Million Book Effort enters May, United Methodist churches across S.C. are picking up steam as they collect books for children in need.
Just take Trinity UMC in Honea Path, which averages about 80 people on Sundays. They have already collected more than 1,000 as of mid-April, and they’ll keep going until the end.
“They’re sitting on my office floor!” said Rev. Gayle Summey, laughing. “We just have a generous church. Our church has so many teachers and retired teachers in it, and the retirees are young retirees, and they know the value of education and reading itself. It was a matter of getting the right person to lead the campaign, Sara Ellen Redd … and she’s been going and going and going.”
The Million Book Effort is a “God-sized” conference-wide initiative to collect one million brand-new elementary and preschool books to be distributed to the children who need them in each of the conference’s 12 districts. The effort is seen as a way to combat illiteracy and, ultimately, poverty.
One million books translates to 83,500 books collected in each of the conference’s 12 districts, or roughly 1,000 per church. The books will be dropped off at distribution sites throughout S.C., with the culmination being a massive book-packing on day three of Annual Conference, June 3. That Tuesday, volunteers will come together at sites across S.C. to receive, sort, package and place bookplates in each book to prepare them for distribution.
At Trinity UMC, in addition to asking members themselves to purchase and donate books, they are getting creative. Summey said older members who can’t easily shop donate funds, and other members buy the books for them. Many of the teachers are getting books through Scholastic and similar companies that offer discounts. Businesses are also involved; for instance, Dollar Tree ordered 300 books for them, which Summey said was a very affordable option.
“I keep telling our people there are churches who aren’t participating at all, and others who aren’t going to reach their goals, so this is where that connection comes in,” Summey said. “Our goal was 1,000 and we achieved it so easily, so we just want to keep on going.”
Other churches are getting creative on a larger scope. In Bamberg, churches are teaming up across the county to do what they’ve dubbed the Bamberg County Children’s Book Drive.
The Rev. Carol Cannon, co-pastor of Trinity UMC, Bamberg, approached her church about the Million Book Effort and was asked by a church member why they couldn’t just keep the books locally where they are so desperately needed. So Cannon approached Bishop Jonathan Holston, who she said gave the OK for them to form the Bamberg drive as part of the wider conference drive. The effort has now become interdenominational in that county, and they plan to give 5,000 to the elementary school in Bamberg, 5,000 to the elementary school in Denmark and the remaining 5,000 among various other groups in the county that work for children’s literacy, including Bamberg County First Steps, the various Head Start programs in the county, Andrew Jackson Academy and Bamberg Shalom Zone Mission Cottage.
“Our dream is one book per person in the county,” Cannon said.
She said school librarians have talked to classroom teachers and developed a way for people to “adopt” classes based on teacher requests, so for example if the sixth grade teacher wants a copy of “Where The Red Fern Grows” for every student, then a circle, Sunday school class, sorority or other group can adopt that class and buy the books.
Cannon said she has been astounded at the success to-date.
“How God works is just incredible, and we know that but don’t know that,” Cannon said.
The Rev. Ricky Howell, who is organizing the Million Book Effort for the conference, said District Connectional Ministries committees are hard at work identifying possible recipients of books within their respective districts. Soon there will be an application available on the Million Book Effort website (www.millionbookeffort.org) for organizations that wish to become recipients. Additional resources are also available on the site, including suggested book lists, bulletin inserts and the Million Book Effort logo.
DCMs will soon begin recruiting volunteers for the packing events taking place around the conference on June 3. Churches interested in purchasing books in bulk should contact their DCMs and/or district offices for a list of vendors that have agreed to offer discounts for MBE supporters.
“It is important for churches and individuals to understand that the Million Book Effort is only the beginning of how we as a church hope to combat poverty and illiteracy within our state,” Howell said.
He noted churches and individuals are encouraged to think creatively as to how they might continue this work through new and existing ministries, projects and events.
“My 6 year-old son, Ethan, will tell you that it’s hard work learning to read. What he doesn’t understand yet, however, is that achieving literacy will open up a world of possibilities and drastically alter the course of his life,” Howell said. ”As a conference, we’re learning that collecting and distributing one million books is also a daunting task. However, many of our churches are rising to the challenge, and I’m proud and excited to know that we’ll soon positively impact children throughout our state by giving them the tools they need to learn how to read.”
Howell said that while there is hard work ahead, it is worth the effort when we consider that the future of all South Carolina children is at stake.”