Margene Willis of First Book — Horry County remembers receiving a Little Golden book from the rural mail carrier on her parents’ farm in eastern Kansas. “My parents were very poor. When I turned 3, I got a Golden book from the mail carrier, Mr. Gleason. His wife was the second grade teacher. They had no children ... the books were their way of giving back to the community.”
Willis doesn’t know if the Gleasons of Alta Vista, Kan., gave books to all 3-year olds, or perhaps to those who might otherwise not have a book. She tells the story by way of explaining why “This is really a passion for me.”
First Book — Horry County in the past several months has awarded $22,300 to schools and organizations such as Freedom Readers and Kids Hope USA, a St. Stephens Episcopal Church mentoring program at Loris Elementary School. Freedom Readers is an after-school reading program. The two nonprofits received the most recent grants, totaling $8,300, as did Green Sea Floyds and South Conway Elementary schools. Other 2013-14 grants were to Horry County First Steps and Homewood (Conway) and Socastee schools.
First Book is a national program with about 170 advisory boards such as First Book — Horry County, the only one in South Carolina, Willis says. Since 2000, the Horry organization has awarded more than $116,000 in grants that have helped more than 5,800 children. Schools receiving grants are Title I schools, meaning they have a high population of children from families below the poverty line. Two-thirds of Horry County Schools children are from such families. Schools and organizations apply for the grants.
Once awarded a grant, recipients access an Online account on First Book’s Marketplace ( www.fbmarketplace.org ). The average price of a children’s book on Marketplace is $2.50, so the $22,300 in 2013-14 grants buys 8,900 books. Nationally, First Book has pushed publishers of childrens books for low-cost books, Willis says, and for greater cultural diversity in children’s books.
The books must go home with the children, so they can share with siblings and parents. Children receive a bookplate for their names.
First Book — Horry County raises money through Author Luncheons, held two or three times a year. “Our signature event,” chairwoman Mona Prufer says of the luncheons. The upcoming event on Oct. 25 at Prestwick Country Club, will feature national television personality Cokie Roberts, author of “Founding Mothers,” now in a children’s edition. An April 19 luncheon featured Charleston author Batt Humphries.
“We would love a sponsor” to underwrite the upcoming Fall Author’s Luncheon, Prufer says. Having a sponsor underwrite the cost of the meal means ticket sale revenue goes to First Book. Prufer notes that “97 percent of everything raised goes to the community.”
“Books, reading, literacy are what we’re all about.”