TUPELO • Kids’ bookshelves sagging with the weight of too many Little Golden Books? Has the oldest outgrown that copy of “Goodnight Moon” and the youngest couldn’t possibly read “Dragons Love Tacos” one more time? Women United of Northeast Mississippi needs those books.
The Tupelo-based organization is inviting the public to a book donation drive-by on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the United Way/CREATE Office at 213 West Main St. New and gently used children’s books, as well as books appropriate for all ages, can be dropped off at the building’s side entrance on South Broadway Street.
Patti Parker, director of donor engagement for United Way of Northeast Mississippi, said the goal of the event is to encourage childhood literacy, which is an evergreen issue
“We have a lot of United Way agencies that address that need, and of course universally, one of the things that can help each of those across the board is just putting books in the hands of children,” Parker said.
Launched this year, Women United is a philanthropic women’s society whose members are annual leadership donors. Nationally, there are over 70,000 members, including more than 500 members in Women United of NEMS.
Parker said the goal of Women’s United is to involve women interested in giving back beyond volunteering and learn some root causes of some community needs. This currently includes hosting virtual lunch-and-learn programs and focusing on different needs each quarter.
Early childhood learning was chosen as this quarter’s specific area of service prior to the pandemic, but has proved to be an appropriate choice. Parker said the pandemic, which has forced parents, teachers and educators to reexamine the education system, has magnified the importance of literacy.
“We really didn’t know earlier in the summer how timely this particular subject area was going to be, but to have these experts in early childhood education talking to our members now in light of all of the challenges of education that our children are facing is just, it worked out to be a very timely information session for Women United members,” she said.
According to Parker, the pandemic has underscored the need to engage children in education, especially those students who participate in distance learning and depending more on their caregivers to help supplement and encourage what they learn inside the classroom.
Women United members have attended a virtual meeting with area experts including Eileen Beazley, Executive Director of Excel By 5; Olivia Morgan, Director of MS Campaign for Grade-Level Reading; Angela Rutherford, Director, Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction; and Shelly Brooks, Director, Tupelo/Lee County Early Learning Coalition as part of the program.
While the book drive will primarily use Women United’s five founding members to distribute books, Parker said they will turn to their wider member network to get books into the hands of children. Books collected during the book drive will be distributed to early learning centers, United Way agencies, and Little Free Libraries across the organization’s eight-county service area, including Chickasaw, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tishomingo and Union counties.
“Putting books in the hands of children and encouraging parents, grandparents to read to those children, and then to listen to the children as they’re reading the books, that’s just been proven time and time and time again to be a great indicator of further educational success,” Parker said.