Family Literacy Activist Emphasizes Importance of Reading to Children
Sep 8, 2023Community News
When Pam Leo's great grandson was born, she decided to write a letter to her granddaughter emphasizing the importance of reading to him, starting as early as possible. However, the letter unexpectedly transformed into a poem that was later published as a book.
Proud of her writing, Pam wondered if perhaps her poem could be donated to an organization that could utilize her message that promoted family literacy. Maybe there was a way she could donate her words to a good cause.
In search of answers, she went to Google to explore family literacy programs. And to her surprise, every website she visited highlighted a concerning statistic: more than two thirds of the 15.5 million children living in poverty don’t own even one book.
Pam found this statistic quite startling and temporarily stopped her search to mull over how she could make a difference in the lives of young readers.
A few days later, while watching the news, Pam stumbled upon a local community preparing for a food drive to support a nearby food pantry. That’s when it dawned on her — why not collect donated books alongside donated food and distribute them to pantries? This way, all parents would have access to books to read to their children.
And so began Pam’s mission. She founded the Book Fairy Pantry Project, a non-profit organization with the goal of providing free books to readers of all ages. Additionally, she transformed her poem into a book titled, "Please Read to Me," which features artwork from seven talented illustrators in Maine. Pam has made this book available to as many people as possible, free of charge.
"As an individual, I may not be able to eliminate poverty, but I can certainly contribute by ensuring that children have books in their homes," said Pam.
Eager to put her plan into action, she contacted the food pantry and proposed the idea of distributing donated books alongside the food. Enthusiastically, they agreed.
Over the course of seven years, Pam's initiative to bring books to local families has flourished beyond her wildest dreams. Her book, "Please Read to Me" is now distributed by several food pantries, Maine Medical Center and via the WIC program.
Pam also donates books to local senior care facilities in an effort to encourage and support their volunteers in reading to residents when they visit.
"I started “Book Angel Readers for Seniors” in memory of my mother," Pam reminisced with a smile.
During her mother's time at care facilities, Pam would bring books to read to her, and her roommates thoroughly enjoyed listening along. To supplement donations, Pam would thrift for books at Goodwill, and it was her mother who proudly assisted in removing the price tags.
"She would sit there, leaning on her walker, diligently removing those price tags. It was a beautiful bonding experience. I wanted to honor my mother's contribution to the project, and the Senior Care Facility is absolutely loving it."
Pam emphasized that the issue lies not in the scarcity of books, but rather in the shortage of Book Fairies - the people who volunteer to donate and distribute books to the locations in need. Beyond giving books, she has made it her mission to recruit more individuals to join her cause.
“My hope for this project is that the "right" people—those who feel as passionately as I do that learning to read is a human right—will hear of the project and use whatever influence they have in the world to help the Book Fairy and me to "make it so."