Kids’ Book Bank making a difference one book at a time

By Beth Casteel

Having the ability to read and write are fundamental skills that are used in almost every aspect of everyday life. At an early age, children begin to develop their literacy by reading and having their parents read to them. When kids don’t have access to books at a young age, it can greatly impact their development.

For Judy Payne and Judi Kovach, this problem was something that they wanted to help solve. Creating the Kids’ Book Bank earlier in 2015, the two of them have been able to bring more than 900,000 books to kids in the Cleveland area.

Findings from the IEA Reading Literacy Study found that 61 percent of children from a low-income family grow up without a single book in their homes. With early brain development, books can be a fantastic tool to help children grow and not having access to books in the home can potentially make them fall behind.

“The kids’ book bank serves a need. We provide free books to kids in need,” Payne said. “The reality is, kids need to have books to be exposed to language, to fuel their imagine and to learn about the world beyond their neighborhood, so we want kids to have books.”

Prior to creating the Kids’ Book Bank, Payne and Kovach originally decided to do free book kiosks in areas around Cleveland called Little Free Libraries. The libraries, started in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin are meant to encourage people to bring a book and then replace it. This tends to work great in suburban neighborhoods but it’s a little bit of a different story in urban areas.

When Payne and Kovach first started doing these, they began to realize that kids would be so excited to get a book but they wouldn’t have anything to replace the book that they were taking. While kids could still take the books, it wasn’t getting restocked and that’s when the two decided to further these libraries and start a book bank where they would be better able to supply books.

To supply the books needed, they struck up a partnership with Discover Books, an online book seller whose largest processing location is in Toledo. With this partnership, they are able to bring thousands of books to Cleveland a month.

In order to get books in the hands of kids in the area, the Kids’ Book Bank relies heavily on their volunteers, who are the driving force behind the operation. After training volunteers, they are then responsible for sorting books by reading level and getting the books ready for their distribution partners.

Those books — that range from baby books all the way to teens — are sent to a variety of locations that include schools, child-care centers and agencies that teach parents to read to their children. From those places, the supply of books is constantly restocked in the area.

With a constant need to keep up with the demand of books, the book bank does everything in their power to ensure that young readers always have something to read. To do so, they specifically focus on getting volunteers during summer, which is a time where kids can lose ground in learning.

While Payne and Kovach stress that volunteers are most needed in the summer, any time during the year is a big help for the bank. Having shifts almost daily at their location in Midtown, Payne encourages potential volunteers to go on their website to sign up.

The shifts that volunteers can sign up for can vary in how many people are there, but there are typically 20 spots every day with two shifts on Saturdays. For large groups, like sororities or clubs, the bank arranges special times where those groups can come and help sort books.

“What’s fun is, as you sort through books, you’re going down memory lane,” Payne said. “It’s fun to bring friends and do job together.”
To volunteer at the Kids’ Book Bank, go to