For someone who grew up in a “house full of books” Sherry Billig couldn’t imagine a world without them. After volunteering with the Bookworms program at Fallstaff Elementary School, Billig started another Bookworms program at Milbrook Elementary School. When she discovered that many of the children did not have their own books at home, Billig was determined to do something about that.
Billig and approximately 15 volunteers go to Milbrook monthly to read to the first and second graders. When they come, they give a book to the students for the classroom library. “And I found out that a lot of these children didn’t have any books at home or very, very few books,” said Billig. “So I started bringing books there myself with some of the Bookworms volunteers.”
The first year, Billig and the volunteers collected over 500 books so that every child could take home a free book.
“I wanted to have at least one book for each child to take home for the summer,” Billig said. “That was eight years ago and each year it’s grown and each year more volunteers have gotten interested.”
Most books come from donations, Billig said, though volunteers collect books from Goodwill and Savers and more recently, the Maryland Book Bank.
This year the book fair took place on April 10 and, like the previous year, each child was able to take home eight books of their own, a total of over 2,400 books.
Billig estimates that over the past eight years, she has collected and donated more than 10,000 books. For the past two years, Billig has been joined in her efforts by her co-chair, Wendy Hefter.
Billig and the volunteers arrange the books according to reading level and category.
“We also have boxes of science, travel and culture, cooking, sports, famous people and the children get just as excited about those,” she said.
Billig told the story of a fourth grade girl who was elated to take home “one of those two or three-hundred page cooking books.” When Billig asked the girl whether she helped her mother cook, the answer stunned Billig. “I do the cooking in my family,” Billig recalled her answer. “It just took my breath away.”
The program even takes baby books, which they offer to children with younger siblings “as long as they promise to read [the books] to the little ones,” said Billig.
She says the most rewarding part of donating books is the excitement of the children.
“[There] was a little third grade boy last year and he had this huge science book with a picture of all the internal organs in the human body,” Billig said. “I wondered if that wasn’t a little too advanced for a third grader, so I looked at him and said, ‘Oh, is this the book you want most’ and he said ‘yes’ and I said, ‘are you going to be a doctor?’ and he said, ‘yes and I’m starting now.’”
Billig elaborates on the importance of having books at home for young children.
“I think books are the home base of education and when a child has a book that they love themselves, [we’re] putting something in their hands that can never be taken away from them,” Billig said.
Billig’s hopes to expand the Bookworms and book fair programs to as many schools as possible.
“I would just love to see the Bookworms programs expand as quickly as they can get volunteers to go to those schools,” Billig said. “I would love to see book fairs run at the schools too, so that lots of children can get free books.”