Blueberries ripen into book bounty for local students

Graham said she will be able to give students new books several times throughout the school year

Sept. 9, 2020 — This summer, for the 10th annual Power of Florence, Shannon Graham decided to sell blueberries to raise money to buy books for kids at Siuslaw Elementary School that were in need of books in their home.

“As a teacher, I know that kids need to have their hands on books in order to become readers and to continue to grow as a reader,” said Graham, who realized that kids would most likely be participating in a distance learning model for at least part of the school year — and that could mean losing access to hundreds of book titles in their reading levels.

“A national statistic is that 61% of low-income families do not have children’s books in their homes,” Graham said. “I had hoped to raise some money to get some books into those children’s hands to start their own home libraries during COVID-19.”

Graham’s plan was to hopefully raise about $500 and stretch that money to buy as many books as she could through First Book, a non-profit organization that sells books at deeply discounted prices to low income and Title I schools and other non-profit organizations.

“I also collected gently used books as well to increase the bounty of books. What I did not account for is the incredible generosity of the Florence community,” said Graham.

Once she began advertising the upcoming blueberry fundraiser, Graham said people began reaching out and asking if they could make donations online. So Graham set up an online fundraiser through First Books so that donations could be tax deductible.

“It was an incredibly successful blueberry fundraiser and online fundraiser, blowing my mind with overflowing generosity by our community,” Graham said.

In the end, her goal of raising $500 had expanded into $6,700 in donations.

“I spent about $1,300 on my first order,” Graham said.

That first shipment equaled almost a full ton, weighing in at 1,847 pounds for a total of 1,282 books with a retail value of $15,456.

With so much funding, Graham said she will be able to give students new books several times throughout the school year.

The first round of book giveaways will be this Saturday, Sept. 12, and will be serving 289 students. Each child’s bag has new books that have a retail value between $50 and $70.

“I have invited community members that were large donors to this project to come and be the ones that are hand delivering the books,” Graham said.

One large donation in particular came from a community member who said they were looking for a place to donate their stimulus check.

“We had large donations come from a local dental clinic, a school board member, retired teachers, local business owners, and a grandma of elementary students,” said Graham. “One special donation came from three kids who donated their allowance ‘taxes.’” 

The Florence Rotary and Siuslaw Education Foundation donated money to purchase festive reusable tote bags to transport the books. Students will bring their tote bags back at times throughout the year to get new book refills.

The Siuslaw Public Library’s children’s librarian has also donated more than 1,000 books she has been weeding through the collection.

The Totes of Tales book giveaway will be Saturday for students. At this point, it is closed to the public.

“I can’t wait to see the joy of kids receiving their totes full of amazing books,” said Graham.