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LOVE WAS IN THE AIR- the love of reading -- as the seventh annual Books For Kids campaign got a Valentine's Day kickoff this morning in the YWCA of Western New York in downtown Buffalo.

The goal of the drive, which continues through March 31, is to distribute 70,000 books to children who otherwise would not have any.

Last year's campaign provided youngsters more than 70,000 books and raised $8,200, which went toward the purchase of bilingual books, books for infants and books in Braille.

Ceremonies included notables who opened books and read to the youngsters in the YWCA's day care center.

Once again, the campaign hopes to attract donations of new books by individuals, corporations, labor unions and business and workplace groups.

"We're hopeful of getting more books and more people and more corporations who want to do something on a company basis," spokeswoman Sheila Murphy said. "You always hope people out there will say: 'What can we do as a company or a group or a club?' "

Last year, Murphy noted, after a local bookstore received a shipment of the first three Harry Potter books in Braille, individual donors bought them and contributed them to the campaign.

After the books are received, volunteers sort them by age group and send them to community agencies that have requested them for children they serve. Some will go to day care centers. Others will go to schools with deficient libraries.

Books For Kids grew from a cooperative effort by The Buffalo News, Project FLIGHT (Family Literacy for Intergenerational Growth and Home Teaching) and Buffalo State College.

It has grown to include the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Quebecor World Buffalo, Wegmans and the Junior League of Buffalo.

"A book of his or her own is a great way for a child to learn to love to read," said Elizabeth Cappella, chairwoman of Educational Foundations at Buffalo State College and co-director of Project FLIGHT with Geraldine Bird, a professor of English at the college.

"We established Books For Kids to help those kids who can benefit most by developing an early love of learning," Cappella said. "Putting books into the hands of as many children as possible at the earliest possible age helps to open that door to the world of reading."

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