A Peek Behind the Scenes During Bookpacking

We just finished bookpacking to prepare for the 2023-2024 school year. A lot goes on behind the scenes to get books into libraries in the Eastern Caribbean. Take a peek behind the curtain to see who was involved, how we did it, and how the shipment of books gets into the hands of kids who need them across the islands.

Unboxing the Books

Out in East Bridgewater, MA just south of Boston lies the Harte-Hanks warehouse, a shipping fulfillment company. For 2 straight weeks, an internal team of Hands staff, community partners, family members, and volunteers arrived early and stayed late to reorganize over 22,000 books into collection sets for 457 pre-primary, primary, and secondary school libraries.

These books included 14,000 fresh new books purchased from Penguin Random House, Scholastic, Caribbean Roads, and several independent publishers, plus almost 9,000 new, highly pigmented educational and informational children’s reference books, thanks to a generous donation from World Book, Inc.

The books included thousands of culturally relevant novels and new and engaging titles. How do we choose these titles? We spend time each year doing student outreach and polling to ensure that the collections continue to meet the interests and needs of young readers. Primary school students receive books with familiar characters and branded favorites such as Peppa Pig and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while the secondary school students get the newest titles in popular fiction series and a number of culturally relevant high-interest-low-level (hi-low) readers. 

Even with a brief interruption due to a tripped fire alarm and an unexpected visit from our friends from the local fire department the first week, we sorted and boxed books for hundreds of schools. 

Special Needs Student Collections

To meet the needs of all learners, we also created 5 Special Needs collections. These libraries are a part of a larger multinational, multi-organizational effort to implement a more inclusive approach to supporting students with learning and physical disabilities through libraries and school literacy.

These targeted collections were carefully curated for the unique needs of the students we serve to capture their interest, maintain motivation, and build connections for young readers while also supporting struggling learners.

Preschool Book Sets

Among our tasks at the warehouse, we boxed up 66 preschool collections, including a set of Big Books, board books, paperbacks, and a library manual to support the launch of an emergent literacy program. The collection received a hearty thumbs up from 5-year-old honorary bookpacking manager Daniel Sherlip, who shared his insights and lessons from his favorite stories as he helped our intern Jess DeRosa pack preschool sets for our eager early learners.

It required 3 days for our team to sort, build, and pack the preschool books with the help of Hands’ bookkeeper, Laurie Ducey and our Director’s husband-volunteer Logan Witt. The preschool collection totaled 4,392 books this year. These books will pay off in dividends for children as young as 3 years old.

Hands Team Work

It takes a team to unbox and sort books for shipment, and we had valuable volunteers join us. Board Chair and retired school superintendent Leah Garratt flew from northern California for the third year in a row to provide invaluable onsite support. During a visit to the Northeast from Dominica, Literacy Link Giselle Laurent joined us for a few days to offer her assistance. And Board veteran Scott Spring stopped by as well to offer additional vital support.

“It is so amazing the amount of hard labour and serious logistical problem solving goes in all those boxes that we Literacy Links receive for our schools,” Giselle remarked. “It was far more complicated than I could ever have imagined. The team worked so hard and so well and still managed to stay positive and cheery. I’m a little sore from all the lifting, stacking and packing, but this experience was so worth it. The Hands warehouse elves are all amazing, which definitely allows us Links to do our best!”

An Invaluable Partner

The massive project of creating so many book sets in such a short turnaround time would not have been possible without the in-kind donated services of AIT Worldwide Logistics. This company generously donates their trucking services, and volunteers from AIT offer their volunteer services to assist, as well. Hands is absolutely indebted to their help. This year, Boston Terminal Manager Jennifer McCarthey and 2 members of her team, Patrick and Jerry, joined us to help unbox 8 pallets to build hundreds of school reference collections.

When we completed our sorting and repacking, AIT came to the warehouse with a delivery truck to pick up 21 pallets. They drove down to Miami, FL and delivered the cargo to Tropical Shipping, where the pallets continued on their journey by sea.

The shipment will land and be held temporarily in Miami before being transported by ship to 7 ports across 6 island countries. We’ll reach out to school principals and partners at the Ministry of Education to alert them of the incoming shipments and request their support and leadership to provide safe passage through the ports. We expect collections to arrive in schools by the middle or end of September. Our local teams will work with librarians, school administrators, apprentices, and Peace Corps Volunteers to catalogue collections and finally place them on shelves so children can access them.

Meeting Specific Needs

The book donations this year will meet specific needs, and we’re excited about the initiatives. These 457 libraries will:

  • Provide 5 schools with inclusive library collections for students with disabilities and special education needs.
  • Launch 66 preschool literacy programs across 3 countries.
  • Create or rejuvenate 123 Hands Across the Sea libraries.
  • Top-up collections to bolster 6 US Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Dominica primary schools to accompany recent local Hands-PCV trainings.
  • Put reference collections into almost all primary and secondary schools in the region.
    Support community book and educational resource giveaways across 3 countries.

Can You Help?

So, a faithful Hands team and committed volunteers sort and pack up this precious literacy cargo for kids. The work has just begun for the 2023-2024 school year. And right now, many schools still need your support to fund the incoming books.

If you have not yet checked out this year’s WISHLIST, I invite you to CLICK HERE to learn more about the amazing schools in need of your generous support. Thank you!

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