Enjoy a wonderful day with friends and family, from the Wonderland BookSavers Team!
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Enjoy a wonderful day with friends and family, from the Wonderland BookSavers Team!
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John Fitzgerald Kennedy
One day last summer, I went for what I thought was going to be a regular day of hanging out with my new friends Pierce, Brooks, Emma, Claire, and Maddie from my school, little did I know I’d end up crashing a Wonderland BookSavers meeting and boxing books in their garage and having an absolute blast!!! But besides having fun, I was mostly deeply inspired by their dedicated work to bring books and literature to those without. When I got in the car to go home, I told to my mom I’d felt like I’d been wasting so much of my life when I could have been really making a difference in the world. I am so inspired by my friends and since then I’ve tried to help in any way I can.
My pastor likes to quote Sojourner Truth’s wise words that “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff,” and for me it was really amazing to see my friends, my very same age, making such a direct and tangible difference for humanity.
During the week, I live in Brooklyn, so I figured maybe I could help by reaching out to schools in my community there. Two amazing private schools in Brooklyn were just as inspired by Wonderland BookSavers and were eager to contribute.
The first school to reach out to us was The Berkeley Carroll School. Berkeley Carroll has been so incredibly generous to the Wonderland BookSavers mission— Thank you Berkeley Carroll! The librarians there, Ms. Briar Suaro and Ms. Kristine Hartley-Maneri, have been so kind in reaching out whenever they have books to share and have donated some 50 boxes of books to date!
The Brooklyn Friends School was also eager to contribute and offered us a great number of books as well. For the first pick-up, Ms. Ryan and I arranged to meet at the entrance where they could most easily unload the books on Pearl Street in downtown Brooklyn. Picking up books on one-way streets in Brooklyn can always be a little tricky — you usually have to block a little traffic but we try to do it quickly! — and Ms. Ryan warned us we’d have to do some slightly illegal maneuvering in order to get to the unloading spot. But as it turned out, we never had to worry about that because when we went to pick up the books that day we discovered a street fair! A two-block radius around Brooklyn Friends had been blocked off and filled with street vendors! Never daunted, the kind custodian of the school loaned me a dolly so that I could wheel the books down Willoughby Street to where my mom was waiting with the car on the other side. I wonder if those books will always have a faint kabob smell?
Here we are re-boxing books into smaller boxes in Brooklyn before bringing them up to Connecticut to the Barry’s garage!
We also live upstate on the weekends and so I started looking around up there for other opportunities to find books for Wonderland BookSavers too. We found two libraries that were willing to donate all the books they had left over after their annual book sale fundraisers. First we visited the Pawling library, who kindly gave us a generous stack of books (they will be able to give us even more this spring!) And then we visited the Patterson library. Ms. Graham at the Patterson Library so generously offered to donate all of the remainder children’s books from their library! Thank you Patterson Public Library!
Finally, we brought the books to the Barry’s garage!
Oh and that’s my sister Emmeline — she has been helping with all of the book moving and packing too and says “Wonderland BookSavers really is a Wonderland because it’s so fun and also kind-of like Magic.” I think she said it perfectly.
Hurricane Harvey decimated much of Houston and surrounding areas this past August.
Although many communities are now fully functioning, there are those that are still suffering. With close ties to the Houston community, we felt that it was incumbent upon Wonderland BookSavers to reach out and provide assistance.
When residing in Houston, we attend The Woodlands United Methodist Church. This church became a central collection and distribution point, providing needed items for people who were suddenly homeless.
People collected and donated all the materials others needed, and then the ones affected by the hurricane would come in and “shop” for whatever they needed. We felt so distant, being in Connecticut, so we decided to reach out to our community and collect supplies and books to ship to Houston.
Despite the fact that it is now November, we have heard that there are schools that remain closed, schools that have lost their entire libraries due to flooding. These schools reached out to us and were very eager for us to send them 1,000’s of books to jumpstart their collections. Additionally, as we searched for shipping and trucking options, we found districts whose children were still in need of basic home goods to replace lost items.
WBS member Ella attends St. Thomas School, and they generously put a gigantic bin in their hallway to collect cleaning supplies, clothes, bedding, canned food, pet food, and books. We were incredibly grateful for this thoughtful gesture. We have partnered with St. Thomas in the past, as they have given us books and shoes. My sister says that St. Thomas is the kindest school in America, and I can definitely see why that is true. After several weeks, our bin was overflowing with donations from all the children, families, and teachers.
The children from St. Thomas also made hundreds of thoughtful, kind, and supportive letters to deliver to the victims of the hurricane.
It was so sweet reading these letters, and knowing that someone across the country will feel loved.
After collecting the supplies and the letters, we packed everything up into our car (the supplies were nearly overflowing!)
Next, we brought everything to our garage…
and employed eager Boy Scouts from our community, who helped box the supplies, weigh the boxes, and stack them.
We were so touched by St. Thomas’ and our community’s joy in helping complete strangers on the other side of the country.
One more Road Trip: Montgomery County, New Jersey, en route to Houston!
We partnered with Operation Friends Again, a New Jersey organization, that is sending a tractor-trailer filled with gift boxes specifically for children displaced by Hurricane Harvey.
Once we weighed all our boxes, over 2,000 lbs., or ONE TON!, they said they would be happy to bring our boxes and letters, with them, down to Houston.
The supplies from St. Thomas and our books are being packed up in a truck this week. Then they will begin their 1,600-mile journey and will finally reach their destination. We hope to receive pictures of the recipients of these items in order to share in their happiness.
A bookmark printed by the St. Francis Indian Mission in St. Francis, South Dakota has the following Indian prayer: “Great Spirit — Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.” Hearsay attributes the prayer to Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.
Before departing this earth, our children’s librarian, Susan Ei, encouraged us to create a Summer Service Day Camp where we could share our knowledge of the world with local kids, and create a fun learning environment that would spark both compassion and enthusiasm for others through literature and service.
We decided to tackle this task by geographic region, and by thinking about the people to whom we most commonly donate. We wanted to be sure to include literature, crafts, games, education and a service project in each day’s meeting.
Africa We began with Africa because we have donated so many books to multiple countries in Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda. We read Patience Mariza Goes for Water by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, a native of Uganda, who has built a school for AIDS orphans in Uganda.
This story, although a picture book for children, is very revealing. Patience is faced with unimaginable hardships that a storybook American child would never encounter. She is beaten by her aunt, and accosted by a strange man, worried she may have AIDS, and exhausted by her daily trek in search of clean water. Eventually, she is adopted by a kind grandmother.
Many children in Africa walk to school, sometimes several miles, barefoot. Shoes can be made from found objects. We helped our campers understand this by helping them create their own shoes from found objects and then experimented to see how far they could walk….(not far!)
They also decorated donation boxes that they brought from home and filled with their own shoes so that they could share these with others.
Haiti To begin our lesson on Haiti we read Tap-Tap by Karen Lynn Williams.
This warm, funny story is about a girl who goes to the market with her mother and after making a little extra money she and her mother are able to ride the taxi-bus home (tap-tap) instead of walking.
We know from our relationship with our friends at Haitian Education Initiatives, that a major part of Haitian children’s education is learning to make things they can sell in the market.
In particular, children learn to sew and to make painted paper-maché bowls. After the Tap-Tap story, our campers sewed beanbags and made painted bowls. They were very beautiful, but perhaps not yet ready to be sold at the market,
Native Americans Having just returned from South Dakota, we had many stories and adventures to share. We also read Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac and Black Elk’s Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson. These stories told of the bravery and beauty of the American Indians as well as some of their beliefs and dreams.
The Native Americans believe that Dream Catchers can catch bad dreams and spirits while you sleep and keep you safe.
Our campers made Dream Catchers from found objects, feathers and beads.
Food Lottery Each day, like every wholesome American Day Camp we had Snack Time. Who doesn’t? Well, many of the children we help don’t have snack time. We discussed this each day, and one day we decided it was time to emphasize what that might mean. Each child drew a piece of paper from a basket. Those with an X were given a snack. No X, No Snack. This was a pretty shocking moment, and after a while some pretty human responses occurred. Some kids “stole” some snacks. Some kids secretly “shared” their snacks with others. Some were publicly outraged, while they gobbled their own snacks. Politics as usual.
Read to Feed We wanted to emphasize that reading is for everyone. We brought in a basket of books, the ones we usually donate, and had the campers choose their own books.
Then we made posters and made a Read to Feed program for our local library. Children can be sponsored to read and by reading they can help purchase farm animals that can bring food to a family or village in another community. (Heifer Project)
Appalachia We have been donating books and building children’s libraries through Project Appalachia since 2012 so we are pretty committed to helping children in this region.
We read Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds by Cynthia Rylant and Barry Moser. We also discussed other American communities that are in need of books and supplies. There are kids that need books and supplies that live in our own communities and we need to reach out and help them as well as helping kids that live far away.
Our campers decorated boxes and brought them home to be filled with books that they could donate to children who would love to own their own books.
Around the World and Banana Ball We also played many fun games, like an African version of soccer played with a ball made from banana leaves (although of course we didn’t have any real banana leaves) and “around the world” frisbee.
Hospitalized children We always remember kids who are sick in hospitals. So we talked about illness and had the campers put together care packages of painted bags filled with our Knot-Yet-a-Blanket kits and poetry books.
Lemonade for Literacy Our final project was to involve our campers, and our community, in our annual lemonade stand.
Our Summer Service Camp jointly donated and boxed hundreds of shoes, books and school supplies, and created many Blanket Gift Bags. They had walked in handmade shoes, made dream catchers, fought over food, read stories from around the world, and committed to continue reading on their own.
It’s time to create global literacy with lemons!
While we were delivering books to Pine Ridge Reservation, we received an email from Brian, founder of Simply Smiles, an NGO that supports Cheyenne River Reservation.
He said, quite simply, “Cheyenne River Reservation is only about 4-5 hours from Pine Ridge. In South Dakota, that’s like going out for a cup of coffee…” Well, we kind of laughed about that, because after spending some time in South Dakota we knew what he meant. It takes hours and hours to go from one place to another, and as noted by Emma, you can never use the GPS. Only a map will work.
After ditching our trailer, and packing our Suburban to the top with boxes of books, we decided we were up for the challenge. We restocked our peanut butter and jelly, refilled our water bottles, and set out on our journey.
We did run into a 30-minute roadblock of one car, not that unusual we found, and, of course, miles of empty, sandy roads.
Visiting the Simply Smiles community center, located in Sam Different Horse’s community building on the Cheyenne River Reservation was amazing. Brian and Zachary and their team are welcomed into the Lakota culture. The volunteers all have close relationships with the community.
The wind blew incessantly, but fortunately the community center had one indoor room and we were able to set up a series of folding tables and create an entire room for our “free” book fair.
The kids were really excited and grabbed as many books as they could carry. That evening Simply Smiles was hosting a reservation-wide dinner. All the parents and grandparents were able to also come and choose books for their families.
One woman shyly asked if she could keep some of our better-conditioned cardboard boxes to use as furniture to store her clothing in her new home. We were humbled by this simple request.
Simply Smiles imports soil and has created functioning gardens that produce enough food to feed a substantial portion of the local community.
The greenhouse was built when Simply Smiles volunteers and Lakota Indians worked together. Zachary explained how difficult it was to stretch the plastic sheeting over the metal hoops and secure it down while battling the constant wind. We could barely imagine. The paper flowers are remnants from the previous night’s decorations when the greenhouse served as a teen dance hall.
We have continued our relationship with the Cheyenne River Reservation kids, inviting some of them to our home when they were traveling near us, visiting NYC. They joined us for dinners, swimming and basketball on several occasions. We have supported Brian at local fundraisers for Simply Smiles. We are so grateful that we have had this opportunity to get to know some of the Lakota kids and we hope to see them again. To learn more about the efforts to sustain the Lakota peoples of the Cheyenne River Reservation: Simply Smiles
Enjoy a film our team made about our trip to the three reservations: Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River:
Hey Siri! Pull up maps…oh wait…
Here in South Dakota, as we wandered on and off of the reservations, in search of the correct entrance to Pine Ridge Reservation, we discovered that our cell phone services and online maps let us down. We learned this only after driving hours through undulating lands surrounded by miles of prairie grass and getting lost after driving hour upon hour in the wrong direction. Learning opportunity! We had to drag out this huge Atlas, which I hadn’t seen since I was 3, when they were still being used, to navigate where we were going. On the upside, notice there is no problem pulling over on the highway and standing in the middle of the road, bare foot discussing our next move!
We did finally make it to Pine Ridge Reservation, but getting to Red Shirt Table was another matter…
We were thrilled to see some friends from back home, and we were welcomed with a picnic lunch and water bottles. After that it was time to get to work. We decided to set up the books over 3 picnic tables so that the children could choose their own books. Here it may look like Quinn is being lazy, actually he is holding onto the books to keep them from blowing away in the constant wind!
The whole trip was made worthwhile when we got to read the children their new personal books
and watch them collect more and more.
We also got to play with the children on the playground, and in a game of kickball.
It was really saddening playing with these children, and then learning of their unimaginable situations at home, yet it helped us to understand why the children were so grateful, and it continued to motivate us to help them more.
We were inspired by the determination of this lovely girl to bring home a boxful of books for her younger siblings. We hope to follow her example!
Last spring when one of our team members became ill she requested that blankets and books be given to children’s hospitals throughout our community to bring cheer to children who are suffering, and quite probably bored while lying in bed in a hospital.
Wonderland BookSavers has been raising funds, creating Knot-Yet-a-Blanket kits, packaged with books, and distributing these gift bags to the Child Life teams in pediatric hospitals in which various team members and friends have been patients.
Partnering with Wetherbee School in Lawrence Massachusetts, dozens of children from this Title I school have been able to participate in their own “service project” by creating amazing paintings for our gift bags.
We were excited to return to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, NH. The team at CHAD, Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, is terrific., and they took great care of one of our team members.
We are happy to be able to contribute to the CHAD Child Life Program.
When planning our goals for this year we reflected upon some unexpected medical challenges that our team members recently encountered. These experiences increased our sense of vulnerability and deepened our appreciation for expressions of random kindness from others. We decided that this year, in addition to donating books, we really wanted to reach out directly to children who are hospitalized. We know, from personal experience, that kindness really matters and small gestures of compassion have great impact when everything else seems out of control.
In previous years we have donated blankets, as well as books to children’s organizations as well as to immigration service organizations.
This year, after several extensive hospital stays by different WBS team members, we decided that entertainment, as well as comfort would be the way to go. And so we developed the idea of Knot Yet a Blanket kits, a blanket kit that child patients can easily make themselves while resting in bed.
The patterns are bright and friendly. The fabrics are soft and warm.
We want the blankets to be safe and clean, so we make them in a pet-free, sterile environment and then seal them in plastic.
But we want to make the packaging fun so we paint all the bags by hand. In fact, we sent 100’s of bags to different schools to be painted by students in various Art Departments. These bags will be sent back to us in April. Our goal, as always, is to have as many kids as possible participate in our mission. Painting bags provides the perfect opportunity for all our Title I schools to partner with us and help make a meaningful contribution.
And since we are all about literacy (always!) we include a book!
Our very first blanket went directly to our favorite-of-all-time-best-ever children’s librarian, Susan. Our prayers are with you, Susan, every minute of every day. We are here with you, awaiting your miracle.
Our first Knot Yet a Blanket & Book donation has gone to Lehigh Valley Hospital Muhlenberg Campus Pediatric Oncology/Hematology Ward in Allentown Pennsylvania. Shannon, our WBS friend and long-time volunteer with the pediatric oncology program will share them with the patients during their chemotherapy sessions.
We are scheduled to make our next Knot Yet a Blanket deliveries to Yale-New Haven Pediatric Hospital in New Haven Connecticut, Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Lebanon New Hampshire. These will be delivered in April.
Unlike our book donations, blankets are not recycled, and so we need to raise funds for this project. Each blanket has a tag from the sponsoring donor, handwritten by Reid.
We would love to have you have your donation and send your blanket on with love!
Please consider joining us in this mission! You may send your blanket (s) in the name of someone you love. Kindness counts, we know from personal experience!
“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It’s always our self we find in the sea.” e.e.cummings
In this case, it is our books that we have found, resurfacing after their long journey at sea.
Many of you will remember that all summer and fall we packed and sorted thousands of books, ultimately sending 15,000 beautiful children’s books to both Ghana and South Africa.These books have a long journey, spending several weeks in metal containers before finally being loaded onto the ships that will carry them across the ocean and to the African continent. From there they must make it through customs and be loaded onto trucks and bump along through towns and villages until they finally reach their intended destination: children who love to read!
We are so excited to receive some photos of children enjoying these books! It is so much fun to realize that although these children are so very far away, in another sense, we are really all part of one world, enjoying the same stories and jokes and learning about the world from the same books.Today we are truly able to say that we are fulfilling our mission,
“Helping children realize the magical awesomeness of reading!”
Please continue donating children’s books! We have recently received an urgent request from some parentless children in Kenya who would love some new books. We are working to gather books and help with shipping costs so these children too can enjoy imaginary tales and learn from science and history books.
With your help we can continue to improve global literacy, at home and around the world. Many thanks, always! The Wonderland BookSavers!
We have been fortunate to be supported by many wonderful organizations, one of which is St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. Father Martin has provided us with the opportunity to speak at 4 Masses this weekend. We want to thank the parishioners for their very generous support as they have donated 1,000’s of beautiful children’s books these past few years. We also want to reflect upon our growth, which we feel is like the parable of the Mustard Seed. We are of very small beginnings, but with humble faith, we continue to grow and make room for others to come rest in our branches.
Andre/Brooks: Good Morning.
My name is Andre /Brooks and Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers.
We founded this children-for-children charity five years ago when I was eight years old. We began as a summer book club, and the first book we read was A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. After reading A Single Shard, we decided to create a banner with an inspiring quote from the book. This quote was, “Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo, but you must not tell your body. It must think, ‘one hill, one valley, one day at a time.’ It that way your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.”
These words proved to be more true than we could have ever imagined.
Claire: We feel that expanding access to books will help to increase global literacy, allowing children to grow into adults that can have more meaningful lives, and will provide the opportunity for more people to follow Christ, through their ability to read the Bible. Our own reading of the Bible has taught us, “For I can do everything, through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13.
The Wonderland BookSavers, now an official international 501(c)3 charity, began five years ago with the simple ambition of using literature and Christ’s love as an inspiration to serve our community.
Our initial goal was to donate 500 books to a local school. We have surpassed our expectations by donating over 140,000 books, 1,500 pairs of shoes and countless supplies including blankets, school supplies and Band-Aids to kids around the world.
With inspiration garnered from literature and from the love of Christ, we now regularly fill libraries in Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, China, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. We do not neglect our immediate community, providing supplies to kids in Bridgeport, New Haven, Newtown, Massachusetts, Appalachia West Virginia and Tennessee.
We are extremely grateful to our adult partnering organizations. They provide shipping and trucking to remote locations.
Of course our most important partners are people such as yourselves, sitting right here at Mass today. The children that receive our donations, both locally and in South America and Africa are so grateful for your contributions. It is hard to understand sitting here in Fairfield today, but something as simple as lacking a pencil or a pair of shoes, can prevent an African child from attending school.
Maddie: We compare the growth of our charity to the parable of the mustard seed in the Bible, Matthew 13:31-32.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
We planted our seed with the simple step of taking action. With humility inspired by Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, we have gratefully watched our seed grow.
In the process, we have learned some things that we had never imagined.
Do you know what a teacher does in Zimbabwe when she gets a new box of pencils? She breaks them all in half, so that every child can have one.
Did you know that many African children walk barefoot to school, sometimes 5 miles or more per day?
Did you know that Jesus lives in Zimbabwe? We received a package of drawings and letters this year from children in Zimbabwe, thanking us for their books, and every single letter referenced Jesus, saying, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.” We truly felt blessed by their words.
The most important lesson we have learned is that charity does not have to involve collecting money.
In our society, we leave books on shelves collecting dust, we have old shoes that are “two sizes too small” cluttering up the back of our closets, we have random crayons, pencils, markers rolling around in our drawers. These are all opportunities to bring joy to a child.
We fill shoeboxes with Baggies filled with all kind of marking tools. One shoe box like this, (show box), contains enough school supplies for an entire classroom in Africa. Please help us continue our mission by simply gathering books, shoes and crayons you no longer need, and donating them so another person can enjoy these items.
Together, we can increase global literacy and help the mustard seed of faith and charity grow in our hearts.
Emma: We would like in turn to thank you, the parishioners of St. Thomas. You have been so exceeding generous these past two years, donating numerous children’s books, school supplies, pens and pencils. These gifts have been truly appreciated. In September 2015, Father Martin was kind enough to allow my friends and me to share with you the adventures of our community service book club, the Wonderland BookSavers. At that time we were proud to have donated over 30,000 books to children across the globe. Now, with the support of Father Martin and you, the parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, who have generously supported our efforts, we can say that together, with Jesus at our side, we are truly spreading the gift of literacy. In just the past 2 years we have shared over 100,000 books with over 500,000 children in over 14 poverty-stricken regions throughout the world. These children are learning to read and grow and will be able to build meaningful futures for themselves and their families.
Ella: On behalf of the many children we serve, we humbly thank you, and as the children in Zimbabwe say, “May the Lord bless you for your kindness.”
Thank You, The Wonderland BookSaver Team