CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - Free books helped students at Montgomery Elementary, Harborside Elementary, and Porter Elementary connect with their schools, despite never setting foot on campus during the pandemic.
Last year, the "If You Give a Child a Book" campaign solicited donations from employees and viewers at ABC 10News, as well as matching gifts from the Scripps Howard Foundation and Scholastic. That money bought more than 6,000 books for the students.
It was the largest donation in the six-year history of the campaign in San Diego.
Administrators at the schools say those books were vital to keeping the kids engaged throughout the school year.
"It sent the message that we value education and we value literacy and that we're in this with them, together," says Montgomery Elementary Principal Lydia Burgos. "A lot of our families lost their jobs over the pandemic. So buying school supplies and books was not in their realm of possibilities. Providing them that resource made learning a lot more positive experience."
Because schools were closed for most of the last year, teachers and staff hosted book drive-through events where families could pick up a packet of books and other school resources. The donations allowed kids to have a library at home when school libraries weren't accessible.
"When they have their own book, and it's paper, it's not online, and they're able to feel it, I think it's just a sense of pride," Harborside Principal Lisa Forehand says. "Providing these books was not only providing literacy but also providing a way for them to escape into their own world the way only books allow you to escape."
Pictures from the schools show kids smiling over their mini-libraries. Forehand says those smiles are the best way to measure the program's effectiveness.
"It's just seeing the happiness on their faces," says Forehand. "They would send me videos of themselves reading or talking about what they were reading. It was like a Christmas. They got to pick up a bag of books. Anything we can do to foster that joy of reading is what we have to continue to do."
And the principals have a message for everyone who gave money to make the book donations possible.
"Please continue the work that you're doing," says Burgos. "It makes a huge impact on our students, especially in this neighborhood."
"It's much more than a book, especially in times like this," says Forehand. "We are very grateful."
The "If You Give a Child a Book" campaign is underway again for the 2021-2022 school year. Books will go to students in the Lemon Grove area.For more information, or to donate, click here.