Big on Books
Former Educator Believes Books Can Boost Childhood Literacy and Bring Families Together
Do you remember how many books you’ve read to date? Chuck LaMarsh does. (It’s 607!)
Over the past 35 years, the avid reader has kept meticulous notes on every book he’s read. He’s instilled this love of reading in his two children and he says with a laugh, “Even my wife has become a reader, in defense!” And since 1996, he’s also shared his love of reading with hundreds of children in the CSRA through his not-for-profit, Bundles of Books, which provides a “bundle” of three books to underprivileged children at Christmas.
“I felt at Christmastime, a good alternative to giving children toys was to give them books,” he says. “It’s really not any more sophisticated than that.”
LaMarsh started Bundles of Books simply by letting friends and family know that he planned to give books to children at Christmas and asking if they would like to make a donation to help. Using those funds, he worked with local bookstores to buy books at “the best discount we could” and provided the bundles to local agencies that gave gifts to children at Christmas.
More Books for More Children
That first year, LaMarsh estimates he was able to reach about 50 children. Today, 16 years later, he’s grown that to about 300 children from newborns to 8 years of age. And according to Rick Herring, executive director of Action Ministries (formerly known as Augusta Urban Ministries), LaMarsh’s program has had an important impact. Bundles of Books has provided books as gifts for the ministry’s White Christmas program for the past several years.
“We try to give gifts in three categories: at least one piece of clothing or other item children need, at least one toy and at least one educational item,” says Herring. “Many times, children need clothing so badly, there’s often not enough left to buy educational games or books, and sometimes not even enough for toys…Bundles of Books helps us give, in many cases, something educational they wouldn’t get otherwise.”
Educator and Reading Advocate
The program is a perfect fit for LaMarsh, who is a former educator, albeit in math. He retired from Lakeside in 2010, which has allowed him to place more of a focus on Bundles of Books. LaMarsh also serves on the board of the Greater Augusta Partnership for Literacy, another local organization that provides underprivileged children one book a month from birth to age 5.
“You’ll find statistics out there (that say) if a child is read to routinely between birth and 5 years old, their performance not only in kindergarten but also in elementary school is significantly enhanced,” says LaMarsh. “And what you find is if a child reads at a third grade level at the end of third grade, the chances of them graduating high school is significantly enhanced…hitting those younger children is very, very important.”
Particularly during this election year, LaMarsh’s hope is that the focus will move from what we should be spending on education to what he sees as the main root of the problem—childhood literacy. “The simple truth of the matter is if we enhance childhood literacy, our whole educational process would improve tremendously,” he says.
Make Reading a Family Activity
In addition, LaMarsh likes to consider the impact programs like Bundles of Books and the Greater Augusta Partnership for Literacy are having on bringing families closer. “Children have to be read to, so what you’re doing by giving a family who perhaps can’t afford books, is you’re creating a situation where a parent or caregiver and the child are bonding because they’re reading to that child,” he says. “That’s just kind of like an extra in the deal.”
During National Library Week in the fall, LaMarsh has also had the good fortune of being able to meet some of the families Bundles of Books has affected. Over the past several years, he’s read to children at public libraries during that week, sharing stories such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, Pinocchio and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. “They’re so excited they can hardly sit still,” he recalls with a chuckle. “They’re not used to this (being read to) and they range from wide-eyed amazement to wanting to get involved in conversation about the characters.”
Expanding the Program
Through LaMarsh’s son, Chad, a musician in Boston, Bundles of Books has been able to grow thanks to proceeds from CDs that Chad has produced to benefit the non-profit. In addition, Chad has opened a Boston branch of Bundles of Books that provides hundreds of books to families every Christmas. But the main support LaMarsh receives continues to be family, friends and other interested supporters, including local businesses, and even neighbors who continue to meet at LaMarsh’s house every year for a “bundling” party to sort the roughly 900 books he gives out annually.
For the future, LaMarsh says he doesn’t have any “grandiose” plans—just to continue doing his part to support the literacy of hundreds of young people through his annual program. “This is just one very brief moment during the year,” he says. “It’s amazing—I have yet to run into anybody who doesn’t think giving books to children, especially underprivileged children at Christmas, isn’t a good idea.
“I think this is one very simple thing that our family feels like we can do for people and the payoff is potentially so high that it’s really not much of an effort.”
Want to help? Send your tax-deductible donation to Bundles of Books, 717 Pevero Abbey Circle, Martinez, GA 30907.
Danielle Wong Moores is an Augusta freelance writer and regular contributor to Augusta Family and Augusta Magazines. She also writes a weekly restaurant review column for The Augusta Chronicle.