Teamwork turns discovery of books into opportunity
Photos: Elburn Lions Club members, community supporter Melisa Taylor and surrounding school district (including Kaneland and West Aurora) and community members recently collaborated to compile a large assortment of books for the Elburn Lions for Literacy program to donate. Over 2,000 brand-new books were distributed to surrounding schools and families, including the Guerreros (right), and Julio and Erik Gallegos (below, left to right) of Sugar Grove. Photos by Lynn Logan
ELBURN—Elburn Lion Joe Kryszak said he’s good at making pork chops and raising money. That’s why, when Lion Brooke Kelley’s husband Vince and his brother Gene came upon a motherlode of beautiful, brand new books in a repossessed warehouse in early January, Kryszak called on the people who were experts on books.
The Kelley brothers were cleaning out the warehouse when they found about 4,000 mostly elementary-level children’s books. Many of the books were bilingual, with Spanish words alongside the English translation.
Vince knew that Kryszak was in charge of the Elburn Lions for Literacy program, so the brothers contacted him. The mission of the Lions program is to get age and gender-specific books into the hands of needy children within the Kaneland School District.
Kryszak enlisted the help of local librarians, as well as Dr. Sarah Mumm, Kaneland School District’s director of Educational Services for grades K-5. They were able to help sort the books by age and gender.
Representatives from Westside Services, the Maple Park Family Fund, Between Friends Food Pantry in Sugar Grove, as well as area churches, provided anonymous lists of children to receive the books.
“Everybody got involved,” Kryszak said. “The sorting process took well over a month, with various members of the community helping.”
Members of the Literacy Committee, including Lions Pam Hall, Bob Burkholder, Mary Gustafson and Hilda Meyer, helped sort, as did Town and Country Public Library employee Ben Brown and Friends of the Library members Al Guthke and Sharon Kryszak.
Lions Ron Algrim and Tom Mahan made sure that the driveway to the garage was continuously plowed so the volunteers could get into the building to sort, and Lions J.D. Lamb and Tommy McCartney gave up a Sunday afternoon of watching football for moving cases upon cases of books from one area to another.
Melisa Taylor, director of the Between Friends Food Pantry Director in Sugar Grove, received some of the books from Kryszak to distribute to the Food Pantry’s clients for their children and grandchildren.
Taylor, who also collects and distributes coats to families in need each year, contacted the West Aurora School District with coats beyond what was needed in Kaneland. When Laurie Klomhaus, principal of Aurora-based Todd Early Childhood Center, came to the food pantry to pick up the coats, Kryszak was there volunteering.
Kryszak found that Klomhaus was interested in the collection of bilingual books for her families, and he was glad to find a home for them.
“They are absolutely gorgeous books,” Klomhaus said.
They are called board books, as they are made with a hard, stiff cardboard, she said. They are smaller and thicker, making it easier for little hands to manipulate them, and they’re great for parents to read with their children.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” Klomhaus said. “It’s neat how it all worked out.”
Klomhaus said she has begun to distribute the books to the families in her program, which includes 380 3- to 5-year-olds who are all at-risk for one reason or another. The Early Childhood Center gives these children a leg-up to get ready for kindergarten, she said.
The next distribution of books in the Kaneland District will take place during the Easter holiday, Kryszak said. It’s the literacy program’s second year.
“From two brothers standing in a warehouse to kids getting new books. Isn’t it surprising what can happen when a community chips in to help those less fortunate?” Kryszak said.
Kryszak said that the Elburn Lions for Literacy will host a book drive in May, and will gladly accept new or gently-used book donations. He said a good test for what “gently used” means is that they are good enough to give to his grandchildren.
“We asked the librarians, ‘Where do we start with kids?’,” Kryszak said. “They told us, ‘As soon as they can hold a book.’”
For information on how to participate and assist in combatting illiteracy in our community, visit the Elburn Lions website, www.elburnlions.com.