Holiday Book Drive brings repurposed books to Island kids

The annual project was inspired by Karen Harris.

Abel Rutkowski, Anya Kohler and Blaise Aubuchon flip through their new books. — Brittany Bowker

“Raise your hand if you like to read,” Elyce Bonnell said to a group of kids seated in a circle at the Martha’s Vineyard Community Service (MVCS) Childcare Center Wednesday morning.

Twelve tiny hands shot up, eager to see what was inside the decorated canvas bags Ms. Bonnell was holding. She began distributing them, one by one, to each kid.

“Will you tell me your names?” Ms. Bonnell asked. “I’d love to meet you all.”

Ms. Bonnell works at the Edgartown library, and visited the Childcare Center as part of her second annual Holiday Book Drive. She received over 400 books from various on- and off-Island donors, and packaged them up to give to to Vineyard kids this holiday season.

Ms. Bonnell’s one-woman project was inspired by Karen Harris, a longtime childhood educator and Bunch of Grapes Bookstore employee. She passed away last fall.

“She taught millions of kids how to read,” Ms. Bonnell said. “She had a knack for pinning the right book to the right person.”

Around the time Ms. Harris passed away, Ms. Bonnell said she woke up with an idea to start the book drive, and decided to do it in Ms. Harris’ name.

“I realized how many books are in people’s homes,” Ms. Bonnell said. “They’re in brand-new condition, but their kids have already read them, so they’re just sitting there collecting dust. I thought, Why not rehome these books?” Ms. Bonnell received an overwhelming response from the community.

“Even after the drive was over last year, I was still getting messages from people wondering if they could bring me books,” she said.

The Edgartown library’s new location allowed space for this influx of book donations. She’s been collecting them all year, and accepts them in every condition.

“I started a tier system,” she said. “The brand-new ones I set aside for the book drive. The ones that are a little more loved are in baskets in waiting rooms and restaurants all around the Island, labeled, ‘There’s no app to replace your lap.’” The ones that are falling apart are set aside for kids crafting at the library. “Every single book that has been donated has been used or repurposed,” Ms. Bonnell said.

The MVCS Childcare Center is the drive’s biggest distribution location. Each of the Childcare’s 62 kids received a bag with four books.They sent Ms. Bonnell a list of the kids’ ages and genders, ranging from infants to pre-K, and the bags were custom-made for every single kid. The MVCS Head Start early education program also received book bags. The rest of the donations were given to the Christmas Eve supper event hosted by Shear Inspiration Salon in Edgartown.

“The biggest thing for me is how many different people this has inspired,” Ms. Bonnell said. “One woman messaged from off-Island, asking if she could send me books through Amazon.”

MVRHS has also been involved. Junior Meghan Sonia reached out to Ms. Bonnell, asking how the National Honor Society could help. They put a drop box outside the high school, bringing in student donations. Meghan helped distribute bags at the Childcare Center Wednesday morning.

“It’s been an awesome, fun project,” Ms. Bonnell said. “The kids at the library have helped me a lot. They’ve brought in books, helped decorate the bags — they’re really excited and invested in it.”

“It’s really nice that the community takes the time to do this for the kids. Literature is an important thing that we want to encourage, and Elyce has been instrumental in making it happen,” childcare program coordinator Judy Thomas said. “And the kids’ reaction says it all.”