7 million books and counting: One man’s fight for literacy among … – Chicago Tribune

It’s a Tuesday morning at Rowe Elementary, a charter school on the city’s North Side, and in Ms. Voigts’ third-grade class, the students are wide-eyed, clinging to the edges of their desks to still themselves. Each kid steps to the front and gets a shiny white plastic bag, then wades back into a moment that builds into a kind of feverish, break-the-pinata pandemonium. The bags are filled with books, not candy, but in an instant they are pulled out, spread across desks, passed with wonder from hand to hand. Kids are no longer using indoor voices: “Ooh, ‘STAR WARS’ — I love it!” “What did you get?” “I’ll trade you …”

Hanging back in the corner near the door is Brian Floriani, a tall, slightly sheepish guy in a baseball cap who is, almost single-handedly, responsible for the uproar. The charity he founded in his North Shore garage seven years ago, Bernie’s Book Bank, has now distributed more than 7 million books, and counting, to kids in the Chicago area.

The plan? To deliver 12 books per year, every year to every at-risk child from birth through sixth grade, throughout Chicagoland. Those kids are at Women, Infants and Children (WIC) centers and at schools like Rowe, where the percentage of children eligible for free or reduced lunch hovers at around 80 percent. 

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