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Thousands of children will get 'First Book'

School union members and other volunteers sort and distribute 22,000 books

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ian Hand of Oregon City moves a stack of books during a First Book event at William Walker Elementary School.On a steamy Friday evening, stacks of books rose up around the William Walker Elementary School's gym.

Many copies of Rick Riordan’s “The Blood of Olympus” were piled high along one wall, and editions of “Walt Disney’s Classic Storybook” literally formed a wall of books along another.

By the end of the evening, more than 100 sweaty volunteers had sorted giant boxes crammed with more than 22,000 disorganized books into neat piles, organized by title and age group along the gym walls. The books were ready to be sent home with kids who might not otherwise have a book of their own to read over the long summer break.

The Oregon School Employees Association rallied their own union members and other volunteers at the school for the Beaverton School District’s inaugural book distribution through the First Book nonprofit organization, which aims to get books into the hands of young readers.

The next day, employees from schools in Beaverton and elsewhere, as well as representatives from other agencies that serve low-income children, stopped by the gym to choose free collections of up to 30 books apiece to give away to underprivileged children.

“We especially want to get a lot of books into the hands of teachers who work with low-income kids,” said Richard Ramirez, OSEA’s director of organizing. “These books are to go home with needy kids.”TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Debbie Stensrud, middle, a special education assistant at Greenway Elementary School, unpacks books during a First Book event at William Walker Elementary School.

Dianna Hess, an executive administrative assistant for the Beaverton School District, said she volunteered with First Book to help share her own love of reading.

“You have to be able to step away from life sometimes and these little ones need a way to do it” through stories, Hess said. “Teaching them to find their imaginations through a book is so important to me.

“We have so many kids (in the district) that just don’t have that opportunity,” she added.

Shannon Omura, a special education program assistant at Beaverton’s Greenway Elementary School, volunteered her Friday night to sort books and also will take 30 books for special needs children who attend her school.

“A lot of schools are going to get a lot of good books,” she said.

“Have you seen ‘Hannah Montana’ anywhere?’” called out Alden Potter, a community volunteer carrying a small stack of books.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle,” said Nicole Wallace, a substitute teacher who specializes in reading.

Becky Steinhardt is a bus driver who plans to give out her 30 books to kids on her daily routes.

“I’m hoping that they’ll enjoy them and learn, and maybe when they’re done reading, pass them on to their friends,” she said.

LisaKaren Donnelly won’t see a single one of the books she sorted at the Fir Grove Elementary School library, where she is the assistant, and that’s totally fine by her because she said it’s so important for all kids to own books.

“That promotes literacy in a different way. It’s theirs,” she said. “We’re giving them something to treasure.”