"Bibliophile" was the word for the day as the Books for Kids literacy campaign kicked off its annual drive with cookies, coffee and a whole lot of young readers.
More than 2.5 million books have been distributed to schools, libraries and day care centers in underserved communities throughout Western New York during the campaign's 23 years of service.
"Getting books into the hands of children is critical to improving literacy skills," said Mary Jean Jakubowski, library director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. "Books are not just words, they have tactile sensations like the fur on the pages of 'Pat the Bunny.' Children don't just learn visually, they learn from hearing, touch and smell."
As children ages 3 and older filled Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center's assembly room, each received a book. The power of a bound children's book in a child's hand was quickly evident in the room full of rambunctious readers. Even the smallest act of turning the page brought a new discovery – and a smile.
Photo gallery: Books for Kids campaign kickoff
Many of the children were outfitted with cochlear implants, small electronic devices that help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.
"Children like holding a book because it is theirs and theirs alone," said Jakubowski. "It's multidimensional. By turning the pages they are also learning."
What started as a cooperative effort in 1995 by The Buffalo News, SUNY Buffalo State and Project Flight co-founders Geraldine Bard and Elizabeth Cappella, Books for Kids has grown to include WGRZ-TV, Wegmans and the public library system. This year's drive runs through April 30.
"Books for Kids is amazing – 23 years of ensuring every child has a book of his or her own," said Mike Connelly, editor of The Buffalo News. "A love of reading is one of the keys to a great future."
The 37 public libraries in Buffalo and Erie County are a part of the initiative. Donations to purchase books for children with special needs are welcome and will be used to buy Braille, large-print and other specialized books. Make checks payable to: Books for Kids/Project Flight, 7954 Transit Road, PMB 205, Buffalo NY 14221.
Community donation locations accepting books this month are: Wegmans in Erie and Niagara counties, Dipson Theaters, Western New York Mattress Firm locations, Raymour & Flanigan locations and Tom's Restaurant, 3221 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.