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kidsreading_girlIn the bustling college town of Amherst, Massachusetts, it’s not unusual to see stacks of used books set out at tag sales or even left in a “free” box by the side of the road. Books are available everywhere and in great abundance. But David Mazor, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Reader to Reader, now knows just how far from the case this is in many parts of the country.

The realization hit him in 2001, when he was visiting his daughter at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and mentioned to the school librarian that he had some books he’d like to donate. When the librarian replied that he hadn’t been able to buy books due to budget cuts, Mazor took his idea further, asking for books from people he knew at the five colleges in the Amherst area, including Smith and Mount Holyoke. He eventually collected so many books that the librarian had to send a truck to pick them up.

Mazor didn’t stop there. If a state college in an affluent area couldn’t buy books, he began to wonder about the condition of libraries in other schools across the country. He started researching areas that needed books and came across Durant, Mississippi, the poorest county in the U.S. He called the librarian at Durant High School and learned that, indeed, the school hadn’t been able to buy a book in 40 years! Mazor immediately began collecting more books in and around Amherst and shipped them to Mississippi.

reader to readerAfter that, he was unstoppable, sending books to needy schools across the country as well as to libraries on Indian reservations. Realizing this was more than a hobby, he decided to leave his film distribution company and officially launch Reader to Reader in 2002, with the mission of using donated books to help expand literacy and learning opportunities in some of the most underserved areas of the country.

Over the past 13 years, the organization has grown in both scope and staff. Mazor now leads a team of four full-timers, and the nonprofit has sent more than $50 million worth of books, computers, e-readers, tablets, and supplies to organizations around the world. Reader to Reader has shipped more than two million books and computers to rebuild school libraries devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and other disasters; donated more than $3.5 million worth of books, computers, and school supplies to the Navajo Nation and other areas serving Native Americans; and built computer labs on the Navajo Reservation and in Costa Rica, Ghana, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, and Kosovo. The organization also launched a mentoring program called Read, Think, Share in 2007 and hosts annual literacy events for teen mothers and immigrant parents near Amherst.

But even as the organization grows and evolves, it’s still the magic of knowing a book has gotten into the hands of a child that motivates Mazor most.

“I’ve received so many letters from young children in which they tell me our book was the first one they ever owned,” he says. “I also get notes from high school kids who tell me that initially they didn’t think a book would make a difference in their life but now they’re going off to college. These notes show us that we’re on the right track. We can’t solve all the problems out there, but we can give our hearts to this.”

HOW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Donate your family’s used books, especially children’s books and books for young adults. Contact Reader to Reader ([email protected]) and describe your inventory before sending.

Set up a book drive with Reader to Reader’s help. “We have a lot of schools, Girl Scout troops, and religious groups that collect books for us,” Mazor says. “We help them match up what they collect with organizations in parts of the country that need books most.” For book drive guidelines, click here.

Consider making a monetary donation to the organization, which helps cover the costs of collecting, sorting, and shipping books. Find more information here. 

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