The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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July 18, 2012

Lunch program gets books to local children

CLINTON — Students flock to a table in the Jefferson Elementary School cafeteria covered in donated books.

Kids sort through the books before picking up one — or maybe two — they can add to their personal libraries. 

Sometimes the students don’t wait to set down their lunch trays before grabbing a summer reading treat.  They know the books are in high demand.

“They go fast,” Jefferson Principal Bonnie Freitag said.

The books are those that are under-appreciated and have been removed from the catalog at the Clinton Library. Library Director Amy Birtell has been condensing the library’s collection to make more room for patrons to read and enjoy the library.

The books have been donated by the Friends of the Library to students who are taking advantage of the summer food service program. This is the first year for the book donation program.   

“Why have them sit in the library when we can put them in the hands of kids who appreciate them,” Friends of the Library president Judy Hammen said.  

According to Jeff Weaver, food service director for the Clinton School District, the summer lunch program is open to all students in school or those who have just graduated.

Students do not need to meet income guidelines or be from Clinton, or even Iowa, to get a free lunch. Weaver said between 250 and 300 students visit Jefferson, while around 100 come to Bluff for the free lunch every day.

Dylan May, an 8-year-old third-grade student selected “Miscalculated Risk,” a chapter book, during the lunch program on Tuesday.  

“It’s very nice of them to give us free books,” he said.  

Each week the group delivers three boxes full of books to both Bluff and Jefferson Elementary. Kids can choose any book they like and take it home for free. According to Joan Pringle, a library board trustee and one of the people behind the book donation program, the boxes are empty by the end of the week.  

“We knew of the existing lunch program and thought this would be a great location to share books with children,” she said.

The book donation program has been going on for the past five weeks and will continue through next week when the summer food service program ends.

“It’s gone really well,” Hammen said. “The kids have been so enthusiastic.”

Sadia Holt, a 9-year-old fourth-grade student, said the Judy Blume book she chose is the first she’s taken this summer.

“I like to read a lot and sometimes I can’t get books,” Holt said.  

Both Holt and May said they are excited to take the books home to read.

Freitag said the program gives students a resource to access books during the summer months, which can be critical to a student staying on track during the school year. According to the Iowa Department of Education, summer break can set children’s education back by a full month for the average student. Studies show reading six books will maintain a student’s education, the DOE reports.

“It’s a fabulous partnership in the fact that it’s the community giving back to the community to benefit our students,” Freitag said. “It’s weeding the books out then putting them in children’s laps.”

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