Port Colborne Optimist Club and library team up to spread the joy of reading

Free children’s books help break down barriers to literacy

Port Colborne Leader

James Culic

With their “Fortnite” battles and their “Roblox” games and their TikTok challenges, kids have a lot of digital entertainment these days to keep them occupied. But as the Port Colborne Optimist Club found out this year, there’s still something about the plain old book that can capture a child’s imagination.

“People seem to think that because kids play with video games and cellphones, that they don’t enjoy reading anymore, and that’s just not true,” said Janet Pilon, president of the local Optimist club. “When we go around to the local schools with the books, there’s this moment when we tell them the books are completely free, and the cheers are just deafening. They are so excited they just scream.”

The Port Colborne Optimists recently connected with a program called First Book Canada, which provides free books to communities that have a disproportionately large percentage of families with a low income. The program recognizes that living at or near the poverty line presents a serious barrier to accessing reading material. By flooding those low-income communities with free books, they are able to combat childhood illiteracy.

The challenge then becomes finding the most effective way to make sure those books get properly distributed throughout the community, and that’s where the Optimists and the Port Colborne Public Library come into play.

The Optimists have been travelling around to local schools in Port Colborne and Wainfleet, handing out hundreds of free books directly to children. But even after all that, they still have lots left, which led them to the library.

“They’ve been bringing us boxes and boxes of brand new books,” said library services director Susan Therrien. “We’re so grateful to have this partnership.”

An entire shelf has been stocked top to bottom with free children’s books for anyone who needs one. By doing so, Therrien is hoping that money will no longer create barriers between children and literacy.

One of the things that helps draw children in and gets them excited is the fact that the books are not old or tattered, but instead are brand new and shiny, something a child can truly feel is their own once they put their hands on it.

“We have a few paperbacks, but most of them are actually really nice hardcover books, and a lot of them are Disney themed so it’s got that hook of being something that they recognize and that gets them excited about reading,” said Pilon.

The Optimists have already been to all the local schools and dropped off a ton more books to the library, but they still haven’t depleted their stock of new books. Now, Pilon and the Optimists are gearing up for another free book tour.

“We’re getting ready for round two, so soon we’re going to go back through all the schools a second time,” said Pilion.

Alongside the free children’s books, the Port Colborne Public Library is also doing its annual 12 Days of Giveaways leading up to Christmas. Packages of new books have been put together, and anyone who visits the library can get a draw ticket to score one of the packages.

For more information about the Port Colborne Optimist Club, visit www.pcoptimistclub.com

For more information about the Port Colborne Public Library, visit www.portcolborne.ca/en/recreation-and-leisure/library.aspx.

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