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One million books for kids

Continuing mission-heavy trend, AC2014 to feature literacy drive

By Jessica Connor

FLORENCE—S.C. United Methodist leaders have a top-shelf goal for this year s Annual Conference: collect one million books for children as a way to combat illiteracy and its twin sister, poverty.

It s an enormous goal — God-sized,  they’re calling it — and one they acknowledge can t possibly be done without the help of the Almighty. After all, one million books translates to 83,500 books collected per district ”or roughly 1,000 per church.

But as S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston said, What better way to do something God-sized than to do something bigger than yourself? When you have a vision that s so big you need God to do it ”wow. I think this will do more than we ever dreamed of. 

Called the Million Book Effort, the book drive stems from the conference s major push to help children in poverty. Illiteracy and poverty often go hand-in-hand, book drive organizers said, so by giving children the education tools they need to get a leg out of generational poverty, lives can be transformed.

A lot of times the ability to read is very much tied in with poverty, and it s a good way to combat poverty,  said the Rev. Ricky Howell, who is organizing the Million Book Effort. We are taking a stand as United Methodists and saying ˜it s not OK with us that we have 20 percent of children in poverty. 

The Million Book Effort will involve individuals, businesses, organizations and agencies donating brand-new elementary and preschool books. The books will be dropped off at one of four distribution sites throughout South Carolina. District Connectional Ministries representatives are coordinating with schools and other literacy agencies to identify locations that will get the books in the hands of the children who need them.

Many of these kids have never had a book, so to hand them a new book will make a great impression,  Howell said.

The books will be labeled so children understand they came with love from The United Methodist Church.

The Million Book Effort will culminate during Annual Conference, set for June 1-4 at the Florence Civic Center. On the Tuesday of Annual Conference (June 3), volunteers will come together to receive, sort, package and place bookplates in each book to prepare them for distribution.

Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Tim McClendon said the Million Book Effort is an effort to attack poverty by equipping students for a better education.  He and other conference leaders are distressed with the inadequate education that some of S.C. s children receive.

It s not the fault of teachers and those who give of themselves to educate children, but we have a problem,  McClendon said. We have some students who have never owned a book. Their reading skills are lagging behind, and a person who cannot read proficiently is a person who will have difficulty finding and holding a job. As Christians, we know that Jesus saves us not just for our personal benefit but for the transformation of the world. 

McClendon urges people to start collecting books now and prepare to join the effort as a volunteer June 3.

The Million Book Effort continues a mission-heavy Annual Conference trend. Last year s conference addressed poverty through a full day of hunger-relief ministry in the S.C Hunger Project, where three shifts of volunteers (including more than 500 youth) packaged 285,000 meals to send to Haiti through Stop Hunger Now. More than 8,000 pounds of non-perishable food items also were collected that day for distribution to Harvest Hope Food Bank and other food pantries across S.C., and many local churches not able to participate in Florence held hunger relief efforts in solidarity.

In addition, more than $97,000 in surplus raised for the S.C Hunger Project was donated to 135 hunger-relief ministries in all 12 districts of the conference ($8,100 per district).

Previous annual conferences have featured smaller-scale mission events, such as a conference-wide Great Day of Service to agencies in the Florence District.

This year s Million Book Effort hopes to take the mission focus to a new level and combat poverty in a different way.

Million Book Effort organizers are asking for prayers, as well as for people to begin collecting new elementary and preschool books. Also helpful is spreading the word about the book drive to your church, businesses, agencies and others in local communities who might be able to help with book donations.

For questions, contact Howell at 803-327-5640 or rrhowelljr@ymail.com .

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