Natchez Literacy Project gives away books during Read Across America Week

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, March 9, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Natchez Literacy Project placed more books in the hands of Natchez school children this year during Read Across America Week than ever before.

Dr. Reneé Wall, a former Natchez school board member and founder of the project, said approximately 1,300 books were given to children in pre-kindergarten through third grade, including the new Instant Impact Global Prep charter school and private schools for the first time.

“This has been our biggest year yet,” Wall said. “We usually do about 900 to 1,000 books. This was the first year we’ve added the private schools, ACCS, Cathedral, Holy Family and Jefferson Street and the Instant Impact Global Prep school. Up until this year we’ve only ever done West, McLaurin and Morgantown elementary schools.”

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Wall started the project after joining the Natchez school board in the 2017-2018 school year but took a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the beginning of the project, books were donated to first and second grade students and Wall stored the donated books at her house. The next year, the project grew and expanded to kindergarten through third grade.

Wall said she wanted to reach younger children first because reading at a younger age, before third grade, is linked to better educational outcomes in older children.

“Third grade marks the turning point from learning how to read to reading to learn,” she said. “By third grade, you should already know how to read and start reading books to learn new things. People in the community can complain about schools and the state of education or whatever, but my theory is we can either complain or do something about it. This is my way of doing something about it.”

However, with more awareness about the Natchez Literacy Project garnering more donations, Wall said she would like for it to continue growing. 

To stretch monetary donations further and give away more books, newly purchased books come through an online book fair and fundraiser. 

“We set up an online book fair through PaperPie and people can purchase books there for themselves or for the project,” Wall said. “Anything purchased through the book fair has a 50-percent match. So, if you purchase books for your own child and spend $20, the company gives us half of that, $10 to spend on books for the literacy project. People also donate through (Jefferson Street Methodist Church) and get a tax write-off and we take that money and purchase the books through the website and get a match back. Oddly enough, this year we purchased nearly 1,300 books and only spent a couple thousand dollars because the book company matches 50 percent.”

An annual greeting card fundraiser in the fall generates more money for the cause, Wall said. People may purchase 30 premium greeting cards for $32, with $13 from each sale funds book purchases, which are further augmented by PaperPie’s matching program.

Some have also donated their favorite gently used or new books directly to the project through Jefferson Street Methodist Church, Wall said.

“We had several people who don’t use the online book fair go to Ollies or Dollar General to purchase books to donate. We also collect used books but they have to be in good condition.”

Wall said the reason for only collecting new or like-new books is for fairness. 

“We are trying to build home libraries for kids and don’t want one kid to have this nice new hardback book and another to have a torn-up book.”

The book fair website is only live from October through January before the March book giveaway during Read Across America Week.

“We always try to open it before Thanksgiving so that people could order books for Christmas presents if they wanted,” Wall said. 

Earlier in the year, those interested in helping with the project can email for more information or follow Natchez Literacy Project on social media for updates.

Donated books should be a third-grade reading level and below and have positive messages — no violent, political or religious topics. 

During the giveaway, volunteers also come to the schools to read to children.

This year, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Natchez Police Department participated.

“We had one kid last year tell us, ‘Thank you so much for this book. I now have two books. The one you gave me last year and this one.’ That is why we do this. The first year I had only seven people donate including my husband and parents. This year, there are probably 20 to 30 people helping from counting and distributing the books to reading to the kids,” she said.