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One late Friday afternoon last spring, Assistant Professor Lee Bebout and his wife Sujey Vega, an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at ASU, visited Laird Elementary School in Tempe. They planned to send their son there the next year.
“We are fans of staying with neighborhood schools and chose our general area of Tempe because of the diversity,” Bebout said.
He was aware that almost 90% of the school’s students qualified for the free and reduced lunch program, and that didn’t concern him. What did catch his eye was a number of children lining up to receive bags of something. He was curious, so asked the principal. Was it a fundraiser?
Bebout was shocked to learn that the students were picking up food for the weekend; these children’s homes could not provide adequate meals.
“Sujey and I were both free and reduced lunch kids growing up, but we always had food at home. The idea that this huge line of kids would go hungry without the benefit of the school was simply staggering for us,” he said.
Bebout later approached the principal to ask what he could do. “I figured she would want us to do a food drive. She surprised me by asking for a book drive. She said that they have the food needs covered for the most part, but many of the students have never had an adult read to them outside of the school setting and many do not have books at home.”
This, he thought—this was something he could help fix.
Bebout presented the book drive idea to English’s Community Engagement Committee, under the leadership of Lecturer Karen Dwyer, which took on the project.
Committee member Alice Hays, a doctoral student in English Education, did some research and discovered that another school in the district, Thew Elementary, was also facing the same challenges. Laird serves kids in grades K-8, while Thew enrolls students in K-6.
Armed with this information, the Community Engagement Committee rolled out its Spring Book Drive, hoping to raise enough books for 1,075 kids to each take one book home.
ASU students, faculty, and staff brought gently-used or new books from home, donated credit from local bookstores, or gave cash. Librarians from around the valley gave book recommendations. Hays and Bebout sorted books and took charge of the donations.
Phoenix Book Company allowed the committee to spend the cash it received on discounted books from its warehouse, helping maximize donations.
The Book Drive surpassed its initial goal, thanks to the generosity of colleagues at ASU and in the wider community, with 1,403 donated books in all. The project raised so many middle-reader books that the sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders were able to select two to three books apiece.
Hays helped with distribution of the books, and said that the students she encountered couldn’t wait to get their hands on the books. The principals at both schools expressed a great deal of gratitude, and the committee is planning to repeat the project, perhaps at another needy school, next academic year.
Photo 1: Alice Hays holds up one of the 1403 books that were donated or purchased through the ASU Community Engagement Book Drive for Thew and Laird Elementary Schools.
Photo 2: Alice Hays worked with the Phoenix Book Company to select books from their warehouse at a dramatically reduced cost.
Header background image from March 7, 1925: Arizona Governor Hunt signs legislation to change ASU's name from Tempe Normal School to Tempe State Teachers College.