YARMOUTH — Family literacy advocate Pam Leo told an eager group of preschoolers last week that each fairy has a job and each fairy needs helpers, like them, to complete that job.
As founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project – a grassroots family literacy movement which, with help from volunteers, collects and donates children’s books to families who otherwise can’t afford them – Leo visited the River School Dec. 1 to meet her youngest helpers to date.
River School is a Montessori-inspired preschool for students ages 2 1/2 to 5 years, “built on the foundation of compassion and mindfulness.”
“Each one of you is a Book Fairy helper,” Leo told the students as they shuffled around, picking wrapped books from a donation bin and decorating their wrapping paper.
Throughout November, approximately 40 families with students at the school kicked off the holiday season by donating their gently used books to the cause.
“(The Book Fairy Pantry Project) gives children a chance to make a meaningful difference in other children’s’ lives and in the world,” Leo said.
A total of 175 books were donated, approximately 50 of which were board books – meant for children from birth to 3 years old.
Leo delivered the board books to the Woman, Infants, and Children Program in Portland and brought the rest of the books to the Yarmouth Food Pantry.
When asked as part of a homework assignment how having books at home made them feel, most students wrote “happy” and “good.” Many said they read every night before they go to bed.
Leo said when she started the project last year, she was shocked to learn that one in every four children in the U.S. won’t learn to read.
According to her website, two-thirds of the 15.5 million children living in poverty in the U.S. don’t have a book to call their own.
“Most people don’t know that there is such a crisis,” Leo said.
Assistant Director Lindsay Crawford said River School House had been looking for a project that would be fitting for preschoolers.
“It’s all about us recycling, re-purposing, and reusing, which is one of our missions,” Crawford said. “It’s fitting for us on so many levels.”
Art teacher Kat Gillies spearheaded and facilitated the event as part of the school’s monthly “Visiting Minds” series – which invites members of the community to share their passions and stories with students.
River School House founder, Meg Harpool, said through the project, the preschoolers really showed interest in helping and understood that they were making a difference.
“We’re so lucky here,” Harpool said. “By thinking outside of just us, (students) have really begun to build compassion.”
Gently used children’s’ books can be donated any time to the Book Fairy Pantry Project’s donation station at Birth Roots pregnancy care center, 101 State St. in Portland.
“(Friday’s event) really has inspired me to encourage other preschools to do something like this,” Leo said. “Even as preschoolers, they can do something that’s changing the world.”
Book Fairy Pantry Project founder Pam Leo, left, helps River School students wrap and decorate their donated books on Friday, Dec. 1, in Yarmouth.