Amy Zaslansky held a book drive to donate paperbacks to a Hempstead school teacher’s class five years ago when the overwhelming response she received inspired what she called an “ah ha moment.”
Soon after, the mother of three from Bellmore founded The Book Fairies, a fast-growing nonprofit organization that collects reading materials for those in need throughout the New York Metro area. The group’s Freeport headquarters is now brimming with books stacked in boxes seven high and nine deep—with more arriving all the time.
“Most people really enjoy their books and want to find a new home for them,” Zaslansky told the Press while seated at a table surrounded by about 100,000 books, some of which are in poor condition and will be recycled.
Zaslansky, the group’s executive director, estimated that The Book Fairies has donated nearly 2 million books to libraries, schools, community organizations, homeless shelters, children’s hospitals and elsewhere since 2012.
“How do we get the books to people that can’t afford to buy the books?” she asked herself as she began to branch out, partnering with other nonprofits. Besides volunteers and books, she’s now also looking for funding so she can hire a staff and expand the group’s reach.
Her goal is to share the love of reading that she learned when she regularly visited her local library with her family while growing up. A former occupational therapist and dot-com entrepreneur who sold her business, she is quick to cite statistics on how much literacy is fundamental to success.
For instance, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare, according to the Gaston Literacy Council. It’s with such stats in mind that she prioritizes getting books into the hands of young elementary school students—although pre-teen books are a tough sell and adult books are nearly impossible to find homes for.
“For many, these are the first books that they’ve ever owned,” she said, recalling children lighting up when they fill the bags up with reading material like kids in a candy store at one of her book fairs.
One handwritten letter she received from a thankful child epitomized the reason she founded The Book Fairies.
“Thank you so much for the three books you gave me,” the student wrote. “I didn’t have any books but now thanks to you I have three.”