On the precipice of a nationwide quarantine, USA Today published an article in their Health and Wellness section on March 16 entitled “100 things to do while stuck inside due to a pandemic.” The activities ranged from taking up a new jazz instrument to perfecting grandma’s Bolognese sauce. No. 8 on that list challenged readers to, well, read.
The Seaford Kiwanis, and specifically President Steve Katz, couldn’t agree more. Although the article suggests picking up “Les Miserables” and “Ulysses,” the Kiwanis are asking locals to drop off books with reading-levels ranging from children to young adult and adult for a book drive the group began sponsoring in early 2019.
“The model of Kiwanis is to serve the children of the world,” said Katz. “Last year, we decided to partner with an organization based out of Freeport, The Book Fairies, to help children and their families get books that they maybe wouldn’t have at their disposal.”
The Book Fairies, a not-for-profit organization started in 2012 by Amy Zaslansky, accepts new and gently used books that include fiction, nonfiction and even textbooks. The organization then donates those books to surrounding libraries, schools, teachers and organizations that would not otherwise have the means to obtain the books.
Since its inception, The Book Fairies has donated more than 1 million books to more than 500 underprivileged schools and organizations across Long Island and the greater metropolitan area.
Katz and the Seaford Kiwanis Club have worked diligently in the past year to deliver donated books to The Book Fairies’ Freeport warehouse, or organize a time for the not-for-profit’s workers to pick up deliveries.
“A couple of months ago, we had about 15 cartons of books that we donated at once,” Katz said. “Each had 12 books.”
The Kiwanis Club estimates that it has now donated roughly 750 books to The Book Fairies. Katz said he encourages anyone in the surrounding area to donate any old or unused books to his office at 3960 Merrick Road. Kiwanis will accept books in a wide array of genres and at a range of reading levels, as long as they are appropriate, but encourage variety in their donation box.
“The benefit is that they have more of a choice, it is not as limited,” Katz said. “Children can take a measure of self-pride and say ‘look at what I have, at what I can call my own.’ It is important that children have a choice. Hopefully they can finish a book, and pass it on to someone else.”
Luckily, Katz has not seen much of a downturn in donations since the coronavirus pandemic really hit Long Island in March. “I didn’t feel any hesitation from those who donated,” he said.
Although a Lindenhurst resident, Katz is the active president for both the Seaford Kiwanis and Seaford Lions Club. He has also worked as a financial advisor in Seaford for just under nine years. He says that he is very fortunate to be a part of Seaford, a town he sees as supremely generous and giving.
Katz also sees the book drive as a way to directly help Long Island’s youth, and not just in Seaford and Freeport.
“It is proven to help cognitive abilities when children are reading at a younger age,” Katz said. “But really, how do you learn? I think you learn from asking questions and you learn from reading. There’s just something about the joy of having a book and getting to turn the page and making progress in the story or whatever you’re reading that is unmatched.”
He went on to say that a driving factor in organizing the book drive was education. Katz is the son of a retired teacher and the husband of a current teacher. He said he understands the value of educating children and letting them be inquisitive and “ask the right questions.”
Now, Katz wants to continue to spread the word. The Kiwanis’ and Katz’s mission are in harmony: to serve the children.
“They deserve it,” Katz said. “They are the future, yes, but more importantly we owe it to them to straighten everything out. The kids deserve it, they always deserve it.” He finished saying: “if we can change the life of one child, its worth it.”