NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. (WKBN) — Hundreds of students in Mercer and Lawrence counties soon will have brand new books to enjoy thanks to the Westminster College chapter of a national service organization.
It’s called First Book. The national non-profit has distributed 115 million books to 100,000 schools and programs in the past 21 years.
There’s a local First Book chapter at Westminster College in New Wilmington. Last fall, Westminster students helped register 382 teachers in Mercer and Lawrence counties for the First Book program as part of a national competition.
As a reward, a truckload of 40,000 books was dropped off Monday morning on Westminster’s campus. And on Wednesday afternoon, those teachers came to pick up 100 free books each to take back to their classrooms.
Additionally, Westminster College early childhood/special education students affiliated with First Book Westminster will receive 25 books to start their own collections.
“It’s quite a feat because we are the only college in the United States to ever have this honor and we are the only small town. The rest of the 10 truckloads went to places like San Francisco, Tucson, Ariz., Indianapolis and Washington D.C.,” said Dr. Eileen Morelli, professor of education at Westminster College.
She said the truckload of 40,000 books was the equivalent of more than $500,000 in books for children. The new books are for newborns to 18-year-olds and are from Hyperion Press and Disney Publishing.
School districts participating in the program include Ellwood City, Laurel, Mohawk, Neshannock, New Castle, Shenango, Union and Wilmington in Lawrence County, and Farrell, George Junior Republic, Hermitage, Lakeview, Mercer, Sharon and Sharpsville in Mercer County, as well as teachers from West Mifflin and Campbell City school districts.
“A lot of our kids are underprivileged, so they don’t have a lot of books at home to read. This program is going to benefit them because we’re going to be able to put books directly into their hands,” said Jessica Wiseman, a first-grade teacher.
Plenty of student volunteers, including most of the education majors and even members of the Westminster football team, helped unload, pack up and distribute the books.
“All these kids around here, kids that we were in schools with, and we did our student teachings and our practicums with, they’re going to benefit from something we did and get all these books. It’s awesome,” said Kayla Oliver, president of First Book Westminster.
Any books that are not picked up by the end of the giveaway will be loaded back onto another truck and taken away by another national organization known as “Read to Feed,” which will help put these books in the hands of hundreds more underprivileged kids in western Pennsylvania.