Book bank’s mission of encouraging kids to read takes on new significance during pandemic

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CHICAGO — Eleven years ago, a Chicago man started collecting books in his garage to donate to children. That mission has taken on a new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bernie’s Book Bank has put books into the hands of the 400,000 kids in Chicago, some without anything to read at home.

During the first week of quarantine, they distributed 40,000 books.

“When remote learning went into effect all over, we really saw the demand increase,” said Darrin Utynek, CEO of Bernie’s Book Bank. “This was an easy way for us to say ‘Okay, you can do some kind of literacy curriculum and we can help provide these books.’”

That’s when the mission kicked into overdrive.

Volunteers began packing “family bags,” stocked full of books for kids from one to 12.

“When you look at a team of 40 strong doing that everyday, I get more and more inspired coming into work,” said Utynek.

Truckloads to hundreds of Chicagoland schools and the Northern Illinois Food Pantry site.

Every donation is followed by multiple handwritten notes of gratitude.

“Seeing the tears and just the emotions pour out from people was so emotional and so inspiring,” said Utynek. “Because it really hit home that our mission was critical.”

For more information on Bernie’s Book Bank click here.

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