Imagine a second-grader with a reading assignment for homework and no books to read - not even a newspaper, magazine or phonebook. His reading record shows he read soup-can labels for credit.
"Books are a luxury item for too many families," said Colleen Ludington, co-founder and chairwoman of First Book-Charlotte, part of a national nonprofit that connects book publishers and community organizations to provide new books to children in need. "There are children entering kindergarten without ever having seen or held a book. In the average low-income neighborhoods, there is one book for every 300 children."
"Sometimes we take things like books for granted that less-fortunate kids desperately need," said Mallory Pigg, 12, a seventh-grader at Smith Academy and a member of Girl Scout Troop 3033.
Mallory and other Troop 3033 members - seventh-graders Lizzy Fisher, 12, who attends Smith Academy; Avery Buie, 12, who attends Charlotte Christian; Community House Middle eighth-graders Marissa Cain, 13, and Morgan Dixon, 14 - were looking for a project to benefit their community and help them attain the Silver Award.
Troop 3033, hosted by South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church, set forth to achieve the Girl Scout ideal: "Discover - Connect - Take Action." The troop met with Ludington and Jessica Norwood, donor information coordinator for A Child's Place. They were told A Child's Place was to receive a grant for more than 1,600 books from First Book.
Norwood offered the girls the opportunity to receive the book shipments, coordinate wrapping parties and distribute the books to designated locations.
The Girl Scouts were busy receiving donations, coordinating host locations, holding two workshops and identifying community volunteers for their Wrapping the Magic project.
Belk at Carolina Place Mall helped the Scouts by hosting a gift-wrapping workshop. The girls took a field trip to Benton Heights Elementary School to participate in the school's "Wrap Up the Magic" event.
"We learned how to find hosts for our parties and donors to provide the supplies needed for the wrapping parties," said Lizzy.
After contacting local supply warehouses with her mother - Rebecca Fisher, Silver Award advisor and one of the troop's leaders - Lizzy learned the amount of paper needed would be costly. Quality Impressions agreed to provide custom paper free; the business even color-coded it for easy wrapping and delivery.
The first wrapping party was scheduled for Dec. 5 at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church. By Dec. 4, only 75 books had arrived, not the 1,500 expected.
"We had our share of ups and downs, but it really has been a great experience," said Marissa.
The evening of Dec. 5, the Scouts were expecting the South Mecklenburg Presbyterian junior and senior high youth groups to help. At 5:15 p.m., the junior high kids met for their part of the project.
With so few books to wrap, the Scouts had to improvise. They prepared a 45-minute presentation, including a welcome speech, an overview of First Book and a YouTube video on Girl Scouting. This was followed by games, refreshments and a wrapping session where each volunteer wrapped just one book. They repeated the program for the senior high group.
"I learned that volunteering for things comes with a lot of responsibility," Avery said.
The shipment of books that was to arrive for the Dec. 5 event was delivered the next day. Eager to get the books in the hands of young readers by the holidays, A Child's Place asked if a workshop scheduled at St. Matthew Catholic Church for February could be moved to December. Another 1,500 books were wrapped Dec. 11.
"We wrapped books for children grades K through 12 in bundles with much help from considerate volunteers," said Morgan. "Middle schoolers, teens and adults alike came to support the cause."
Everyone pitched in: Seniors from Ardrey Kell High, volunteers from St. Matthews, South Mecklenburg Presbyterian and community volunteers helped the Girl Scouts reach their goal.
"To see that all these people care enough about giving these kids books, that they take time away from their busy schedules, is extremely touching," Marissa said. "I believe I have learned a lot from being a part of this project."
With leftover gift card donations, the Scouts also added food to the pantry at A Child's Place.