Before the pandemic, Gary Patnosh regularly gave out books to kids visiting the Jersey Explorer Children’s Museum in East Orange, where he is the director. A retired reading teacher, Patnosh knows how essential books and stories are for a child’s early literacy development and loves seeing kids who are interested in reading. “They’re excited they get a chance to pick a book,” says Patnosh. “Nowadays, you don’t always expect that in a kid.”
For years, Patnosh has volunteered with Bridge of Books (BoB), a foundation that collects books through book drives, donations and publisher overstocks to give to underserved children in New Jersey. Abby Daly, a former attorney who worked on children’s-rights cases, started the Rumson-based organization in 2003. To date, BoB has distributed more than 1.2 million books.
For five years, BoB operated out of a space donated by Holmdel-based communications company Vonage. The organization is currently working out of a storage unit and needs a new donated home in Monmouth County to meet the rising demand for books.
With limited space, Daly has worked tirelessly to adapt to evolving needs, even seeking out adult books for the first time to distribute at senior citizen centers, where residents have been restricted to their rooms for much of the past year. Her car, says Patnosh, is always stuffed with books. “Abby is unrelenting in getting books in the hands of children,” he says.
Thanks to dedicated volunteers like Patnosh, BoB has continued to carry out its mission even during the Covid-19 pandemic, handing out 75,000 books last year.
The pandemic has disrupted the nonprofit’s usual distribution methods, such as in-school readings and museum field trips. “These kids are losing so much in terms of going to school—the social interaction, choosing who you sit with—and if we can do something to help give them some choice, we’re there,” says Daly.
With the Jersey Explorer Children’s Museum closed since last March, Patnosh has had to be creative to get books to the kids who need them most. While virtual learning has been in place, Patnosh has worked with public schools in East Orange to distribute books with lunches as part of the city’s Grab ’N’ Go program. The books are laid out in front of the schools, where parents and children can easily pick them up.
It’s just one of many efforts for which Daly is happy to provide donated materials. “Kids needed our books when they were in school,” she says. “They need them even more now.Click here to leave a comment