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Nonprofit group Clackamas Bookshelf encourages readers at free meal sites during COVID-19 closures

A Clackamas County nonprofit organization has been distributing thousands of free books to children who are receiving free lunches during the COVID-19 closures.

Maria Preston, daughter of Clackamas Bookshelf Executive Director Katy Preston, helps give away bags of books to kids getting free meals during the COVID-19 school closures.During its first three book giveaways (one in Gladstone and two in Oregon City), Clackamas Bookshelf gave away 2,760 free books. Clackamas Bookshelf Executive Gladstone High School cook Amy Voelker wheels a cart of meals to the parking lot at Kraxberger Middle School.Director Katy Preston said she hopes to give kids books at each food giveaway site in all the county's school districts, but is scheduling them as she goes.

"Since it is only a two-person crew, it takes awhile," Preston said. "I would hope if someone is regularly getting food, we would see them at some point."

Preston said she and her daughter are the only two members of that "two-person crew" so that nobody else outside of their family is being exposed or exposing books to outside germs.

"We are able to limit exposure to coronavirus by having only two people fill the bags, while disinfecting the area and wearing gloves," Preston said.

Clackamas Bookshelf's free books have not been touched by anyone else for weeks, sometimes months, and have been stored in boxes. The books are distributed in new paper bags that were donated from Dan Mills at the Oregon City Grocery Outlet, so there is no chance for infection there. Tailored to various age groups from baby board books to high school reading level, each bag contains a variety of fiction, nonfiction, gently used and at least one new book.

"The children have been very excited to see what is in their grab bag of books. … We have a large stockpile of clean books thanks to our amazing volunteers who come every week and clean hundreds of books," Preston said. "When we are at giveaways, we ask what grade their students are and with gloved hands, give the bags to the adult, avoiding any physical contact. This is similar to the process the food providers are doing."

Gladstone Center for Children and Families secretary Heidi Smith helps pack free meals for students.Gladstone School District spokeswoman Leslie Robinette said she and many others have been thankful that Clackamas Bookshelf and SMART have stepped up to COURTESY PHOTOS - Clackamas Bookshelf, a nonprofit organization encouraging childrens literacy in the county, organizes books by age group before giving them away.provide free books at food sites.

"It's a great way to keep kids reading until schools can reopen," Robinette said.

Preston said it was important to provide books during this critical time.

"Many parents have told us that they don't have internet and that these books will provide their children something to do to fill up these long days," she said. "Keeping their reading skills sharp over this extended break is crucial."

On a typical day, hundreds of Gladstone children and teens pick up meals.

Gladstone schools' head cook Lynn Aleksich said, "Families have been very appreciative of the food, especially now that they are trying to visit grocery stores less often."

Besides school cooks, other district employees have stepped up to help, including secretary Heidi Smith and custodian Melissa Clark.

Support children's literacy

Since its bookstore is closed due to COVID-19, Clackamas Bookshelf is raising money to buy more children's books to give away by selling grab-bags of donated books for adults.

These donated books for adults have been sitting in isolation since March 13, Preston said. One person handles orders "using all safety precautions" and delivers the grab-bags personally to homes of Clackamas Bookshelf supporters in the county.

Order 10 books for $7 or 20 for $12, with various authors or genres to choose from at theclackamasbookshelf.org.


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