Thanks to a bonanza fundraiser, Operation Read has raised more than enough dough — $20,000 — to purchase four books for every pre-K, Kindergarten, first- and second-grade child in Palestine schools, including students in the Palestine and Westwood districts.
A pancake and sausage dinner Saturday at the Palestine Senior Activity Center fed 800 people, selling $1,100 worth of tickets at the door, and raising as much in donations.
What's more, as of last week, Jeff Atkinson, vice president of Palestine Kiwanis, had persuaded more than 25 businesses to donate cash, and seven more to give away products, such as food, cleaning supplies, and paper plates, to support the pancake dinner.
Palestine Kiwanis is one of seven local civic groups supporting Operation Read. Next year, Atkinson wants more participants from Palestine’s churches and civic groups to join them.
Saturday's event was less about eating pancakes and sausages and more about reading.
“The idea was to bring the community together to help our kids,” Atkinson said.
Students from all schools helped at the fundraiser, an all-day event, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It drew people from throughout the community.
Palestine Kiwanis has purchased books for first-grade students at Northside Elementary and Westwood Primary for 10 years. So Atkinson knew the purchasing policies of Scholastic, Inc., including donating five books for every $150 purchase.
Atkinson’s wife, DeAnne, a technology director for Palestine schools and former teacher, showed him a story in the Herald-Press about Mayor Steve Presley’s Book Club's initiative to buy books for all young readers in Palestine. She challenged her husband to handle the logistics.
With funds raised through Operation Read, each child in four grades will receive four books — two in English, one in Spanish, and one in both languages — to encourage parents who do not read English to read to their children at home.
“We asked the teachers, who are trying to rebuild classroom libraries,” Atkinson said.
The most common observation: Children are not being read to at home. Get books into their hands, so they can read with their parents.
At a cost of $2 per book, Operation Read will purchase 5,000 books for 1,360 students in four grades, spending about $11,000. Students will receive the books in drawstring bags donated by Kim’s Convenience Stores at two pep rallies in early October.
Board members could use the additional money to buy four books for each third-grade student this year; some of the money will support next year’s Operation Read fundraiser.
Atkinson and Operation Read’s board of directors want to continue raising money and buying books for all of Palestine’s youngest readers for the next seven years. The goal: To get enough books into the community's homes and spread the excitement for reading.
Westwood Superintendent Wade Stanford also wants Operation Read to continue.
“I hope it heightens our awareness about the importance of educating our kids,” he said.
By getting more books to children and parents, Operation Read hopes to raise students’ test scores and accelerate their academic success.