Jack Knox: Cheques and hugs all around for literacy

Jack Knox mugshot genericIt’s Family Literacy Day today, the culmination of Family Literacy Week.

Pure coincidence, but it was also the week Times Colonist Literacy Society grants — the money from our annual book sale, with some matching funds from the province — started to go out.

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More than $300,000 is being divided among more than 150 recipients this year. That brings the total since the first sale in 1998 to more than $5 million, all of it going to literacy and education programs on Vancouver Island.

A bunch of us from the newspaper spent part of the week delivering some of the grants in person. Delivering cheques is a good gig. Everybody else does the heavy lifting at the book drive and you get fawned over by the recipient. I  tend to blush winningly and murmur “It was nothing” because, really, it was nothing.

The biggest cheques — $25,000 each — were delivered by publisher Dave Obee to the Victoria Literacy Connection (the name Literacy Victoria and the READ Society took when they got married) and the Greater Victoria Public Library.

“It would have been for more,” Obee jokingly told the library board, “but I bought a wood splitter on your behalf yesterday. It’s in my yard if you want to use it.” Grants to the library have totalled more than $300,000 since 2007.

Other grants are going to the likes of the Learning Disabilities Association of B.C., which gives struggling kids the help they need to keep their heads above water, and the Mustard Seed Street Church, whose Fair Start program provides backpacks full of school supplies for families that can’t afford them. Fair Start was launched by Times Colonist employee Linda Matthews and her mother, Vera Webb, in 1997 after Linda, having just spent $100 on back-to-class stuff at the Tillicum mall Zellers, asked herself how other, poorer parents did it.

Most of the grants go to schools, and man, are their staff excited when the cheques show up. For those with little other book budget, it’s like Second Christmas, and they react accordingly.

Copy editor Pat Coppard got a big hug from teacher-librarian Rachelle Tyrell at Cedar Hill Middle School. At St. Joseph’s Catholic school in Saanich, the grateful recipient made the sign of the cross before embracing another teacher. When Bruce Cousins, the boss of the TC’s reader sales and service department, showed up at Savory Elementary in Langford he was told: “It’s our favourite day of the year.” (I think they were talking about the arrival of the cheque, not Bruce. Nice guy, but … )

At Sidney’s Parkland Secondary, teacher-librarian Aaron Mueller proudly showed off some of the new titles being gobbled up by voracious student readers. Post-apocalyptic fiction is hot. So is poetry, thanks to the popularity of Instagram poets. I was pleased to see All the Light We Cannot See. Great book.

Down the road at Central Saanich’s Stelly’s Secondary School, Alice Kedves gestured to a shelf full of Indigenous titles. Parents will open a book, turn to a child and say “Here’s a photo of your great-aunt” or “This story is told by a man we know.” Many schools are looking to add Indigenous content to match changes in the curriculum.

At one school I interrupted a teacher who was enthusiastically working one-on-one with a child. The child, whose reading level had been badly lagging, was making great strides. Imagine the difference that teacher was making in that kid’s life — the difference between making it and being left behind. It was uplifting. Too bad that everyone involved in the book drive — all the donors who give up their beloved books, and the hundreds of volunteers who spend weeks sorting the donations — couldn’t have shared that experience.

On Thursday, many of the volunteers filed into Uplands Golf Club for a celebration of life for Bob Taylor. Bob was the cowboy-hatted volunteer who co-ordinated the efforts of all the other volunteers, was the unflappable presence who oversaw the day-to-day operation of the book drive, even as his health declined. Cousins called him the “heartbeat” of the operation.

I really wish that just once Bob could have brought a cheque to a school, just to see how much good he and the others have done.

Times Colonist Book Drive and Sale

Mark your calendar: Here are the dates for the 2019 Times Colonist Book Drive.

• The two-day drive-through book drop-off will go from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 27 and 28.

• The sale itself will be May 11 and 12.

• Both the book drop and sale are at the Victoria Curling Club at 1952 Quadra St.

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