Education

Columbus student collected 2,000-plus books — then found inspiring way to give them away

Feeding and Reading program fosters reading by offering kids a book for dessert

Columbus High rising senior Libby Paul has collected more than 2,000 books and is giving them to students who eat for free this summer as part of the Seamless Summer Feeding Program in Muscogee County schools. The program is Feeding and Reading.
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Columbus High rising senior Libby Paul has collected more than 2,000 books and is giving them to students who eat for free this summer as part of the Seamless Summer Feeding Program in Muscogee County schools. The program is Feeding and Reading.

Amid the joyful and meaningful noise of children excited about learning, Columbus High School rising senior Libby Paul searched for words to summarize the impact of her summer project.

“It’s hard to explain,” she said Thursday in the Fox Elementary School cafeteria, “but just to see their faces when they actually get a book, . . .”

Libby didn’t finish the sentence, but the interruption communicated her point when a hopeful boy asked her, “Do we get to keep these?”

“Yeah, you keep it,” she replied. “It’s yours.”

The boy beamed.

And then, one by one, children clutching the books they chose, told her, “Thank you.”

Libby has collected more than 2,000 books — and an estimated 1,400-1,500 students have received one this summer — after she revived the book drive she began as a middle school student at St. Luke.

The goal: help disadvantaged children fall in love with reading like she did, thanks to parents who read to her as early as she can remember and bought her books throughout her childhood. So she started a book drive at St. Luke, donated the books to Downtown Elementary School’s library, then added Brewer Elementary School to her project.

This summer, she read about the Seamless Summer Feeding Program in the Muscogee County School District, which kept 24 school cafeterias open June 4 through July 19 for all students in the Columbus area to continue eating free and healthy meals while classes are closed for vacation.

“It just seemed like a perfect opportunity to start it back up,” said Libby, who turns 17 next month.

The first time she gave away the donated books this summer, she had a bigger turnout than expected. So she posted on her Facebook page a request for friends to donate additional books. That generated an overwhelming response.

“It’s crazy,” she said.

Libby sorts the donated books and displays them by reading levels.

“The kids are not only excited to get a book, but to get a book that they want to read,” she said.

Here’s proof: One of the students gushed as Libby set up some books on a table in the Fox cafeteria, “Y’all have the best books!”

Last week, Libby said, a grateful mother confessed that her children hadn’t been reading at home because they didn’t have any books at home. “So even the parents are being positively affected as well,” she said.

Fox principal Yvette Scarborough confirmed this reality.

“Our kids just don’t have books at home,” she said. “I mean, they really don’t. We do everything we can to find ways to send books home. . . . When they get a book, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is so exciting!’ Their eyes get big, and they’re just thrilled to get books, things that are theirs. When they borrow them from the library, they know they’ve got to bring them back, but this is theirs. Ownership of something, even as small as a book, is a big deal.”

Scarborough considers Libby’s project an example of what’s right in Columbus.

“It encourages me that we’re raising good people,” she said. “We’re producing good citizens. It shows that somehow, someway, we’re instilling volunteerism in them, seeing a need and filling a need, and servant leadership.”

Libby, who wants to pursue a career in public health, isn’t getting academic credit or community service hours for this project, but the gratitude she hears from the recipients is reward enough.

“It’s inspiring,” she said. “It kind of gives me a boost to keep doing it.”

Although the Seamless Summer Feeding program is finished for the year, Libby planned to take the rest of her donated books to Girls Inc., and she vowed to find other ways to give more children books if she receives more donations.

How to donate books

To donate books to Libby Paul’s project, message her on her Facebook page. The favorite titles are in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and the “Junie B. Jones” series, she said.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE
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