Much More Than Free Books

Published by Chris Wangler- December 30, 2020.

In recent months, a Waltham man has parked his free book trailer in low-income neighborhoods, inviting residents to browse and grab a few books.
“During the pandemic, kids are having a really hard time finding books,” said Chris Young, an educator and counselor at The Fessenden School in Nonantum.
He created the Books & Bread initiative not only to promote youth literacy, but to narrow a widening opportunity gap between low- and high-income students.
Educational research shows that kids who have books in their homes do better in school and are more likely to graduate from high school, Chris explained.
Initially he solicited donations from friends and family on Facebook.
Dante and Vince Snoonian, a seventh grader and eighth grader from Central Mass, donated 1,700 books after organizing a successful book drive in their community.
“We thought that kids should have books of their own, so we collected three van-fulls of books from all around our town and delivered them to Coach Young,” the boys said. (Chris coached Vince’s Mass Elite Football team last year.)
And the Books & Bread name?
Before starting the trailer project, Chris left out crates of books near distribution sites for the Waltham Boys & Girls Club’s summer meals program. Chris’ wife Erica is the club’s executive director.
Books & Bread addresses both food insecurity and literacy access, which worsen when kids are out of school.
“In summer, low-income students lose 2 to 3 months of literacy growth,” Chris said.
But the need stretched into the fall, with COVID shutting down school and public libraries.
So Chris built a bookmobile over three weekends, drawing on his background as a construction framer. He found a trailer on Craigslist, then put a deck on it.
A Waltham window distributor supplied him with recycled pallets, which he cut up to assemble the shelves. The bookmobile holds 2,500 books.
It was set up right after Halloween near Gilmore Playground on the South Side.
“It was pretty much emptied the first weekend,” Chris said. As the bookmobile gained steam, non-profits have become involved.
“The donations are coming in from all over the place,” he said, meaning the family garage is often full.
Now the idea is gaining traction elsewhere, as Chris fields inquiries from other communities.
His goal is to have youth take ownership of similar projects, creating a “loosely connected network of bookmobiles.”
Looking back, the Snoonian boys learned a lot. “We both love to read,” they said, “and when we saw a service project that involved books for kids, we definitely wanted to help.”
Courtesy photos