This is part of our story series, EKY Flood Relief: Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
“Books act as a gateway for children to experience the world, expand their imaginations, and sometimes even escape from difficult realities.”
Amber Crawford, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pikeville’s Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine, stated on the flyer she created asking for book donations for her former elementary and middle schools after the devastating flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Amber was in Pikeville for clinical rotations when her mom initially reached out to her about the rising flood waters near her Letcher County home.
“I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I got on social media. Over the next few days, Mom sent me photos of devastation – from my great aunt’s house being overtaken by water, to the school where she is a K-5 STEM teacher (my former elementary school) being ruined. That really hit me.”
Just days prior to the historic flooding, with the beginning of the school year just weeks away, her mother’s friends and colleagues had been sharing photos and stories about decorating and organizing their classrooms. All of that work had been destroyed.
“At least four Letcher County grade schools were basically totaled, with three of them – West Whitesburg Elementary, Whitesburg Middle School, and Martha Jane Potter Elementary having been under four feet of water.”
Amber, naturally, wanted to help. She anticipated that many organizations would flock to the area to provide donations to meet immediate needs of food, water, and clothing.
“I remembered how I LOVED to read, starting around third grade. I was the kid checking out a new library book every other day, always choosing to read as my free time activity. Books meant so much to me at an early age.”
Amber decided to try to organize a book donation drive, to replenish the libraries at her former elementary and middle schools – West Whitesburg Elementary and Whitesburg Middle School. She created a flyer and shared it on Facebook. The response was tremendous. She noticed people from all over sharing her flyers on social media, and information about the book drive also spread through word of mouth, reaching further than she could have ever imagined.
Initially, she was meeting individuals to collect donated books at designated drop-off points and collecting monetary donations via Paypal. However, the response was so large that a Letcher County school librarian, Sharie Bailey, ended up fielding calls and arranging donation drop-off in a central location at Letcher County Central High School. This way, they were able to coordinate distribution to not just the two schools that Amber Crawford hoped to assist, but to all flood damaged Letcher County elementary and middle schools.
Combined with Sharie’s own efforts to replenish lost libraries, book donations to Letcher County Public Schools have numbered tens of thousands.
“I had one group alone that brought five thousand books at one time,” Sharie said. “Without the donations, I wouldn’t have had anything for my elementary and middle school libraries.”
Efforts to sort, catalog, and distribute donated books to the affected schools are still ongoing.
Bailey’s Amazon Wish List for ongoing donations of books and supplies to establish temporary school and classroom libraries for flood damaged Letcher County schools is available here: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2SVABP13MZ3PO?ref_=wl_fv_le#
Helpful Tip #1: Utilize social media to get the word out.
Amber Crawford’s book drive flyer took off on Facebook, triggering donations from a wide geographic area – from a large donation of books from a school in Virginia, to monetary donations from students at Eastern Kentucky University. “Facebook and Twitter were great avenues to get the word out that we needed books,” Sharie Bailey shared.
Helpful Tip #2: Be specific about needs for supply drives.
Sharie created an Amazon Wish List with specific educational book titles and collections. She used it to purchase items for school libraries with donated funds, and donors could use the list as a reference when collecting gently used books to donate, or purchase directly from the wish list to ship to the distribution center.
There were some donated items that could not be used in the school libraries due to their contents or conditions. “Being specific about our needs from the start is something I would do differently if there were ever a next time,” Bailey stated.
Helpful Tip #3: Explore existing resources.
The Kentucky Department of Education has a School Crisis and Emergency Response/Recovery webpage with resources to help schools and school districts recover from a crisis: https://education.ky.gov/school/sdfs/Pages/School-Crisis-and-Emergency-Response-Resources.aspx
About this story series:
Mountain Association is partnering with What’s Next EKY?! and Vision Granted to host a series of stories showcasing the incredible flood relief efforts across the region in response to the flood on July 28, 2022. With a goal to share hope and spark new ideas about ways you can help in your own community, these stories will showcase the creativity and hard work of local people, provide helpful flood recovery tips, and feature stories of neighbors helping neighbors. If you have a story or helpful tip to share, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Please learn more about this series here.