Alana Weisberg has always been an avid reader, she enjoys nothing more than escaping into a good book. So when the pandemic hit and her school was forced to close, she found a lot more free time on her hands, free time she was happy to fill with her insatiable appetite for reading.
But this also got her thinking about other children, children who were not quite as fortunate as herself. With libraries closed many children would not have access to the books Alana herself could enjoy, that did not sit well with the 16-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles.
Thus she founded Bookworm Global, a brilliant charity that Weisberg started to last spring and has so far collected and distributed over 22,000 new or used books to children in need.
Bookworm Global began small but has grown rapidly over the last year. Now the organisation even trains Girl and Boy Scout troops on holding their own book drives in their local communities. Any books collected are sent on to Weisberg or organises getting them into local schools or non-profits around her area. Bookworm Global has even branched out of California and donated to an orphanage in Mexico.
Yet the focus is still on her local community. Weisberg says her goal is still to get books into the hands of L.A. children with little means.
“I wanted to get books to kids living below the poverty line,” she said. “The children that are getting these books have never owned a book before.”
Los Angeles has a homeless problem, particularly amongst youths. The city has a lot of students and English learners who are struggling to read at the states average standard, that is according to state data, this is not acceptable to Weisberg.
ICEF Inglewood Elementary Charter Academy has received around 5,000 books from Bookworm Global, something that will help many of its students according to the community relations coordinator Jhonathon Gonzalez. According to Gonzalez these books will be the only physical ones many of his students will have access to.
The school does not have its own library and has been forced to photocopy pages from numerous books just so their pupils can have access to the written word. Almost ninety percent of the schools pupils live below the poverty line, though Gonzalez says that number is now likely higher thanks to people losing their jobs during the pandemic.
“Getting books into the hands of students is critical so that children can momentarily step away from the harsh realities of their COVID-19 living conditions and travel to new worlds through reading,” Gonzalez said.
“It’s an opportunity for them to escape what they’re currently going through and go to a magical land,” he said. “A lot of our students don’t have that opportunity. It’s up to us to provide them a different world through the lens of a reader.”
Bookworm Global has also placed an emphasis on books whose protagonists are people of colour, in an attempt to appeal to as broad a range of readers as possible.
Weisberg hopes that this philanthropic organisation can help many new children develop as deep a passion for reading as she has.
“Reading is really important to me because it’s my escape. When I’m bored, I go and read,” she said. “I want kids to be able to engage in a book and really enjoy it and foster a love of reading.”