Students in the Effingham College and Career Academy’s logistics program are giving nearly 30,000 books to schoolchildren.
And that’s just the beginning.
ECCA has partnered with First Book, a non-profit organization that provides new books to children in need. Utilizing warehouse space at the Effingham County School System’s maintenance facility, logistics students are storing the books and processing the orders to be shipped to children locally and across the U.S.
Already the first high school in Georgia to have a logistics pathway, ECCA is now the first in the state to partner with First Book. Students began working in the warehouse in late January, and the first shipment from First Book — 29,172 books donated by Disney Publishing — arrived at the end of March.
“It’s very cool,” said Luke Usher, a junior at Effingham County High School and one of 23 students in the logistics program. “We’re giving children books that they can love and enjoy, because they can’t afford them.”
The students will coordinate nearly 700 deliveries of books by April 25, according to Ashley Kieffer, director of ECCA’s logistics program. The students, who range from ninth- to 12th-graders, are in the warehouse every Tuesday and Thursday earning valuable hands-on lessons in all facets of the logistics industry.
“When we got that first shipment of books, I told my students, ‘This is real-world now,’” Kieffer said. “We’re sitting on just over $200,000 worth of books that have been entrusted to us to maintain, warehouse, care for, protect and ship on behalf of First Book.”
While ECCA will send First Book shipments throughout the country, several of the books will stay locally. Under its agreement with First Book, the Effingham County School System keeps 5 percent of the books.
The books will be given to children in need at Effingham County’s Title I schools, officials said. Kieffer plans to have his logistics students personally deliver the books and read to students at the elementary schools.
“The key is, those books are not the school’s books. Those books go home with those children,” Kieffer said. “It may be the only book they have — but it’s theirs. They can put their name in it.”
Katie Niersbach, the operations manager for First Book’s national book bank, pointed out that many children in the U.S. simply don’t have access to books. She cited a study indicating that, in low-income communities, there is just one book for every 300 children.
“Picture that visual of 300 children running to try to get access to one book,” Niersbach said, “where typically in a middle-income home, each child could have 30 or 40 books just hanging out in their bedroom. The problem of just not having access to books is what we’re trying to fix here — because it’s huge, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Niersbach attends First Book events throughout the country, and she said children are sometimes confused by the book distribution — simply because they aren’t accustomed to owning books.
“I have been to some where we’ve had to say, ‘No, take this home. You get to keep this.’ And they’ve said, ‘Oh, this is mine? Really?’” she said. “Then they cherish it, and it’s a good start to respecting their book and loving it, and they just want to become readers.”
The partnership with First Book is the latest step in a big first year for ECCA’s logistics program. The students took “some awesome field trips,” Kieffer said, including the Port of Savannah, CST Covers and Georgia-Pacific, and having a hands-on laboratory at the school district warehouse gives ECCA a “really complete program now for these students.”
After having 23 students the first year, Kieffer hopes for about 75 next school year and more than 100 in year three. As the program grows, so will its involvement with First Book.
“This is just the start,” Kieffer said. “We are prepared to handle and warehouse up to 100,000 books at one time, and we’re going to try to flip those next year three or four times. So we’re going to shoot for 300,000 to 400,000 next year.”
For more information about First Book, go to www.firstbook.org.