Bolstered by more than 200 volunteers, many of them students, Operation Read’s second all-day pancake dinner Saturday raised $22,000 from sponsors and donations, including almost $5,000 through ticket sales.

Organizers had hoped to attract 1,200 to 1,300 people to Operation Read's second annual pancake fundraiser, which ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Palestine Senior Citizen Center. This year's pancake dinner drew about 700 guests, compared to about 800 last year.

Operation Read aims to put new books into the homes of Palestine's youngest students – from Pre-K through the third grade – and to boost their reading skills and enthusiasm for reading.

Last year, Operation Read raised $22,000 to purchase four new books each for 1,800 students. Organizers set this year's fundraising goal at $30,000.

Altogether, Operation Read purchased nearly 8,000 books in 2018. Volunteers hope to do even better this year, using any additional money for activities such as free libraries around town to make books more accessible to kids.

Diane Davis, Operation Read's volunteer coordinator, told the Herald-Press that half of the more than 200 volunteers were junior high and high school students, ages 12-18.

About eight adult organizers worked a 14-hour day, arriving at 6 a.m. and staying until 8 p.m., after everything was cleaned up.

Other volunteers included people who “just showed up to help,” Operation Read board member Jeff Atkinson said. These included about 10 members of the Palestine Fire Department, who helped cook pancakes and sausage Saturday morning. The main cooks – 18 total – were lined up ahead of time and served in three-hour shifts.

Most teen volunteers worked shifts of two hours each, directing guests through the line, serving juice or coffee, or picking up finished plates and taking trash to the back, before sitting down to a plate of pancakes sausage, and syrup.

One teen, Ian Axum, 17, was praised for putting in a particularly long day — from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. – to support Operation Read. Axum said he wanted kids to have the same access to books that he had when he was younger.

Two of Axum's friends from Westwood High School, Victoria Kakhiani and Aliha Afreen, volunteered from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., helping wherever they were needed.

Other youth arrived to entertain the diners. A small theater troupe from Palestine High School, children’s choirs from AM Story Intermediate and Westwood Elementary, and a robotics group from University Academy provided performances and demonstrations on stage inside the senior center.

Bailee Birdwell, 12, also worked about two hours at the pancake dinner. “I love to read, and I would be sad if I didn't have books to read,” Birdwell said. “I want other kids to be able to have access to books.”

Morgan Birdwell, a fourth-grade teacher at University Academy and Bailee's mother, agreed. “I think it’s important to put books in kids’ hands,” she said. “I brought my kids because it’s important to teach them to give back.”

Morgan Birdwell's son Caydin, 14, also volunteered.

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