Another chapter in the longstanding partnership between the New Trier Township and Bernie’s Book Bank will be authored Friday, Oct. 16, when the two unite for a contactless children’s book drive.
The book collection, also held in partnership with the Village of Glencoe, will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Glencoe Metra (southeast) parking lot. Books collected will support Bernie’s Book Bank, a Lake Bluff-based nonprofit that sources and distributes books to at-risk children throughout Illinois.
This is the second contactless book drive the township has hosted in support of Bernie’s Book Bank since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drive will help support the nonprofit’s mission of distributing quality reading materials to children who desperately need them — something its leadership believes is more important than ever before.
“There was a literacy crisis that we were serving before the pandemic hit,” said Darrin Utynek, the CEO of Bernie’s Book Bank. “The pandemic has only exacerbated it in the sense that it’s disproportionately impacting the children we serve, because when they had to shift to alternative learning models, whether the hybrid model or the full remote model, the impact of that on them was greatly superior than other children that you see across the country.”
Utynek said that Bernie’s Book Bank has seen its demand for books increase since the start of the pandemic. The nonprofit’s staff is doing everything possible to meet the demand and provide the needed resources as best possible.
“So for us, the demand for books has gone up and we have been trying to service that and make sure that we can help out the children and the school districts that we service and get through this, because we know that’s a plug-and-play mechanism for their curriculum — independent reading and then reporting back on what you read,” he said.
“Those are easy ways for school districts to engage with their students and so we’ve actually seen an increase and I think the literacy crisis has been kind of spotlighted because of the pandemic.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Bernie’s has distributed just under 1 million books to children. The local nonprofit anticipates it will surpass a million shortly, Utynek said.
Bernie’s typically distributes approximately 3.1 million books annually, during years not affected by global pandemics. It also has roughly 40,000 volunteers who visit its Lake Bluff facility and assist in processing the books it receives.
But since mid-March, Bernie’s has not been able to have volunteers in its facility, so the nonprofit had to restructure and redesign its facility so that all 32 of its team members could work to process books.
Despite the challenging circumstances created by the pandemic, Bernie’s is on pace to distribute 2.2 million books this year, Utynek said, adding that book drives like the upcoming one sponsored by the township and Glencoe play a big factor in reaching that total.
Dr. Alan Goldberg, New Trier Township supervisor, similarly believes in the value of book drives during these trying times.
“The challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the importance of getting books to children in need,” he says in a press release detailing the event. “We are grateful to Village Manager Phil Kiraly and his team for hosting this collection in Glencoe.”
Village of Glencoe staff members and local volunteers will be on-site Oct. 16 to accept gently used and new children’s books. Extensive safety protocols will be in place, and mask-wearing is required. Donations will be accepted from the trunks or hatchbacks of participants’ vehicles.
Donors will be asked to enter the Metra lot located near the intersection of Green Bay Road and Park Avenue, the release says. Donors should remain in their vehicles while masked volunteers will empty cartons or bags from the trunk or hatchback area. The village asks donors to also wear masks while interacting with staff or volunteers.
The books will sit for three to five days once then get back to Bernie’s Book Bank before they are sorted through, processed and put into bags of six books, which are called family packs. Those packs contain a variety of books from birth to sixth-grade reading levels. The books are then distributed through Bernie’s partners and will then be distributed directly to families.
Utynek, a resident of Wilmette, is delighted to see the township work closely with local nonprofits.
“I’m kind of unique in that I’m not only a resident but that my wife is also an educator in the township, so from that standpoint, I’m extremely proud of this partnership and what we’re able to do,” he said. “But I think even moreso, we often talk about trying to partner with other nonprofits and just link different people together and it really makes me proud that the New Trier Township believes that as well and is always looking for different ways to engage with the community and to better serve these amazing nonprofits and other organizations that are around in the area.”
Residents with questions about the book collection event should email The township’s Jack Macholl at firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.