Updated: Nov 18, 2022
For Anyone Who Doesn't Know . . .
In the days following the tragic events of May 24, 2022 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a conversation with fellow children's author and friend G. Neri led me to think how I could convert my grief and despondence into action. Into hope. This was how #600BooksOfHope came to be. Never Counted Out co-founder Gia Gordon and myself with the support of Neri and children's author Pat Zietlow Miller began a campaign to collect 600 new children’s books to give to the students of Robb Elementary. Story can be a place of comfort, of possibility, of sorrow, of awakening, of new beginnings, and hope.
As the campaign quickly surpassed our initial goal of 600 books, we realized the achingly painful truth: every child was impacted in Uvalde that day. So, we expanded our call for books to include pre-k through 12th grade.
Some people sent a single book. Others sent a dozen or more. Word of mouth traveled from salon chairs to chats at a zoo. A Publishers Weekly article about #600BooksOfHope circulated from inbox to inbox. Soon, my house became a cardboard box/bubble wrap haven filled with books from across America, Australia, Canada, France, England, and elsewhere. Many books were inscribed with a dedication. With a quote of inspiration.
One author had personally signed 250 of their books. There were letters, drawings, stickers, bookmarks, plush animals, puzzles, and DVD's. We had asked people to shine the light of story. It was literally beaming from the small edges of my home.
The generosity was humbling. Ultimately, we would collect 14,000 new books and activities from publishers, companies, authors, illustrators, libraries, bookstores and individuals.
After months of logging, sorting, and stacking thousands of books in my home and garage, we secured September 17, 2022 for the first book drop. Unfortunately, it was shorter notice than we planned, and we weren't able to secure volunteers to pack out books.
The Night Before Our First Book Drop . . .
Gia logged as I loaded up a car and a U-Haul van with boxes of books. We'd just found out that circumstances beyond anyone’s control would have the book drop in the parking lot of El Progreso Memorial Library on what promised to be a specifically hot Texas Saturday, rather than inside the air-conditioned building. A series of unplanned challenges followed.
That night, knowing there would be no one available to help us with the book distribution in Uvalde, I said to Gia, “We need a literal miracle tomorrow.” Exhausted and somewhat dispirited, we hoped that even a handful of families would show up for books. Concerned that we might end up driving much of what packed back to San Antonio.
The next morning dawned cool and bright, and our two-vehicle caravan made its way to Uvalde. Still unsure of what the day would bring, we rolled up to the library at 9:45 am with plenty of time to set up before the 10:30 start time. But there was a truck parked where we needed to set-up. Gia asked if the driver would be comfortable parking elsewhere, the young woman behind the wheel said, “Is this where the book thing is happening?”
That was the first miracle of the day. She'd actually been waiting . . . for books!
I dove into the van, cracked open boxes and no sooner had her truck began to pull away did Jeri, from our partner organization Edmentum, walk up. She had made the three-hour drive from the Austin area to help us distribute books.
Jeri was miracle number two.
Then it began. Car after car filled with families began to arrive. As we rushed to put up tables (thank you Max +1 super amazing person) and unload boxes, a gentleman who had come for books said, “Do y’all need some help?”
“Are you serious?" I said.
"If you could help for just fifteen minutes, so we can finish setting up, that would be amazing.”
"I'm Albert. I’m a teacher here in Uvalde. My wife is on her way – she can help too.”
Albert and his wife Yvonne were miracle number three.
No sooner had our impromptu team settled into a rhythm, an intern with the library -- dressed more for business and not necessarily hauling boxes offered to help.
Tammie became miracle number four.
It was a constant go of pulling boxes, unpacking, stacking and celebrating with the community our collective love of story. Of sharing where the books had come from, the intention and love far and wide. So many parents, children, and teachers shared their stories, their hearts and their gratitude for the books. Many people surprised to hear all the places the books had come from. One person said, "All of this? For us?"
And Gia said, "Yeah. For Uvalde."
One family picked out some books, left – only to return a short time later with bottles of cold water for our team. “You looked like you needed it. It’s so hot out here,” they said.
This family was miracle number five.
Originally, the book drop was supposed to run from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., thinking we'd be in the good if we handed out a few hundred books. In just under three hours, we had emptied the van and car. Over 5000 books found homes in the hands of Uvalde children that day.
Gia and I (with the support of the #600BooksOfHope Pick-Up Crew) had an amazing day with the Uvalde community. Even so, we never lost sight of what brought us there. The brutal loss of 19 children and 2 teachers. The darkness of May 24, 2022 can't be undone with any number of books.
With that said, I believe with my whole heart in the power of story. The stories we read. The stories we hear. The stories we find ourselves brave enough to write and sometimes even braver to share. #600BooksOfHope was created to offer story to the children of Uvalde as a place to rest, a place to listen, a place to feel seen, a place to question, a place to sometimes laugh and sometimes cry. If just one of the books we handed out can give some fraction of that to a Uvalde young person, then we've done a lot.
I learned something that sizzling-hot September Saturday in the parking lot of the town library. Sometimes hope is a verb. A thing that you do and from that, it can become a noun. A tangible gift for others. In the form of a book, a shared story, a moment of tears because we can keep those things with us for the harder times.
Our next book drop is December 10, 2022. We'll be returning to the wonderful El Progreso Memorial Library and distribute new children's books and some toys starting at 10:30 a.m.
Mendell Morgan, Director of El Progreso Memorial Library The amazingly generous staff of El Progreso Memorial Library Jen Perry, Director of Whole Learner & SEL at Edmentum Jeri Trice, Edmentum Albert & Yvonne Martinez Tammie Sinclair Gilly Segal Pat Zietlow Miller Erin Murphy Carolyn Flores
Brittany Arp at Uvalde Leader News Jessica H., FedEx Representative And the remarkably generous donors you can see by clicking here.