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Books on the bus: summer program aims to feed minds and bodies

By Rebecca Rider

rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — This year when the Summer Feeding program kicks off, kids will have an opportunity to feed their imaginations, as well as their bellies.

“For a lot of our kids, what we know is that they don’t have personal libraries at home,” Crystal Merck, elementary lead teacher for Rowan-Salisbury Schools said.

“They don’t have access to books at home. …Which, we know affects everything.”

They’re calling it the “iRead, iFeed” program. Each year food services cooks, prepares and ships out breakfast and lunch to satellite locations across the county in an effort to fight poverty and hunger many students face over the summer months. Last year, the program provided more than 135,000 meals over the nine-week break.

“It’s twofold,” Merck said. “We really meet two needs.”

Last summer was also the first time the buses and trucks took along an extra treat for students — boxes of books. This year, thanks to donations from community members, Merck and others hope that they’ll be able to give a book to each child each week.

One of those community members was 16-year-old Annabel Barr, a junior at Cannon School in Concord.

“I kind of was inspired by mom,” she said.

Her mother, Gwin Barr, helped start the Crosby Scholars program in Rowan County, and Annabel said that she wanted to “have my own project.” She learned about literacy issues thanks to her mother’s work, and reached out to the school system to see how she could help.

Annabel sent out letter after letter, explaining the situation and asking for donations. The response blew her away.

“Everyone was so generous. I was really blessed with the amount of generosity I received,” she said.

The letter campaign raised $5,780, and also turned up boxes of gently used books to donate to the school system.

“It was incredible,” Annabel said.

She hopes to continue the project yearly, at least for the duration of high school. This summer she’ll also have the opportunity to visit some of the feeding sites and help hand out books.

“It makes me feel so good. I love that feeling,” she said.

Merck and several other employees organizing the project took a trip to the Scholastic warehouse in Charlotte, where they used all but $14 of the funds raised to purchase books. Merck said they filled the “Yum Yum bus” — a modified school bus that functions as a diner for the feeding program — with books. Last year, the book program only managed to raise $1,500, so Merck said she’s thrilled at the increase. Schools are also collecting books from families, and the program will be receiving books from the N.C. Department of Agriculture, as well.

“It’s bigger than we could have imagined,” she said. “…I can’t guess how many books we have.”

The books span pre-kindergarten through eighth grade reading levels, and include board books, picture books and chapter books. Merck and others hope the books will help stop the “summer slide” as well as foster a love of reading.

“It’s just about the pleasure and the joy of practicing the skills they’ve learned over the year,” she said.

If each student receives one book a week, by the end of the summer they could have ten books to add to their home libraries. And if students have siblings, the number of books in each house rises.

The school’s summer feeding program begins June 15 and is open to any child between the ages of 3 and 18. Visit http://rss.nutrislice.com/meal-locations for more information.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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