March book drive will give gift of learning to less fortunate students

A local nonprofit is collecting books this month to help low-income students stay engaged with reading all year long.

The Osceola County Education Foundation is hoping to collect 1,000 books for students in grades K-12 during its Ready to Read Drive.

Those books will be available to public educators in Osceola County at its free Kissimmee supply store, A Gift for Teaching.

“Many teachers are gifting these books to their students, so they can build their own libraries,” said Kathy Ejnioui, director of programs at the Education Foundation. “That way, students can keep reading and learning on the weekends, over the summer and keep up with their peers.”

The Education Foundation has hosted book drives in the past to replenish the nine bookshelves available to educators at a Gift for Teaching. The nonprofit group also works closely with Goodwill and some other businesses to keep those shelves stocked.

The books assist educators so they don’t have to dip into their own wallets to help students. Ejnioui estimates the free teacher supply stores gets about 4,000 to 5,000 visits a year from local educators, so it can be a challenge meeting demand.

“Teachers are on tight, limited budgets just like the rest of us,” Ejnioui said. “This is a great resource so they can help their students even more.”

Over 80 percent of Osceola County students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means many children come from low-income families where age appropriate books are scarce. Overcoming other obstacles, like navigating public transportation for a trip to the local library, can also hinder a student’s access to books, Ejnioui said.

Book drives like this give parents and others in the community a chance to put old reads to good use, Ejnioui said.  

“By doing a little spring cleaning, you’re also giving an opportunity to a child who has maybe never visited a bookstore before or doesn’t have extra money to spend on reading materials,” she said.

The Ready to Read Drive is going on in March – also known as National Reading Month.

The Education Foundation is looking for new and gently used picture storybooks, middle grade novels, early reader books and chapter books.

Donations can be dropped off at the Gift for Teaching store, located at 2510 New Beginnings Road in Kissimmee, on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Tuesdays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.