It began with the want to get involved in the community during a pandemic and addressing a simple need: quality books for children who were stuck at home due to COVID-19.
It led to College of Education professors AnnMarie Gunn and Susan Bennett teaming up with the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg’s Executive Director Heather Robb to secure $4,000 in funding to provide children’s books to 45 local families.
“We know the more access you have to high quality reading material, the more kids will read,” said Gunn. “We thought it would be a wonderful way for us to support the community.”
The group received a $4,000 gift, with $3,000 coming from the Koren Family Foundation and another $1,000 from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s Fundholder Match Program. The grant money provided five books each to 80 children in grades K-8, who are part of PAL’s afterschool program.
Books were selected deliberately, thanks to the diligent work of volunteer Barbara Peterson, so that children would get award-winning reading material that was culturally responsive, dealt with social and emotional learning and age-level appropriate. Some of the children’s books selected and given to families included “Germs! Germs! Germs!,” “Brown Girl Dreaming” and “Those Shoes.”
They also found books that discussed the current situation in an age-appropriate way. “We thought it would provide an opportunity for families to talk about what’s going on,” Gunn explained.
While Gunn, Bennett and Peterson helped order, arrange and pack the books, Robb and PAL’s two St. Petersburg police officers spent one morning delivering them to all 45 families.
“It was great to see everyone. Our officers were able to reconnect with the kids, after several months apart, the kids were excited to be getting a package and the parents were thrilled that they had more reading material,” said Robb. “The time and care that AnnMarie, Susan and Barbara put into this was just amazing, something we couldn’t have done without their support and expertise.”