Last April, as organizers scurried to get ready for their Channel 2 on-air Books for Kids event at a Wegmans store in Amherst, a young woman jogged by at about 4:30 a.m. and asked what was going on.
They told her, and the woman came back at about noon, carrying a sheet of paper detailing her brief life story -- and a $50 bill attached.
The woman was dyslexic. And she didn't know it until her husband pushed her, at age 27, to go to a doctor. For years, the woman said her mother thought she had raised a stupid daughter. Now she can read books, cover to cover.
"I can't tell you how significant literacy is to me," the woman told the workers.
That's the kind of evidence that fuels the passion of the people behind this year's 16th annual Books for Kids drive, the brainchild of former Buffalo News reporter Rose Ciotta.
In its first 15 years, the drive has distributed 1.8 million books, including 179,445 new books for children all across Western New York last year.
Organizers held a kickoff reception for the event Friday morning inside -- where else? -- the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. The drive will be held April 1 through 30 at various locations across the region.
"Why books in the year 2010?" asked Geraldine E. Bard, co-director, along with Elizabeth J. Cappella, of the Project Flight books initiative. "Books don't need batteries, and they don't need electricity. It is cheap technology."
With so many families having to scratch together the money they need to buy groceries, they often don't have the money to buy books.
"Teaching a child to read opens a door that no one can close," Bard told about two dozen people at Friday's reception.
Much like toy and food drives around Christmas, Books for Kids uses 139 local agencies to distribute the appropriate books to children. Those agencies, including community centers, schools, libraries and Head Start programs, fill out applications listing the ages and genders of kids who need books.
"You're not going to get a Harry Potter book for a 3-year-old," said Cindy Sterner, marketing director for The Buffalo News. "They all get books that are appropriate for their age group."
Organizers also stressed the importance of finding books that focus on various ethnic and multicultural groups.
"We want children in all the agencies to see themselves reflected in the books we give them," Bard explained.
Books for Kids is sponsored by The Buffalo News, Worldcolor, Project Flight, Wegmans and WGRZ-TV Channel 2. Co-sponsors include the public library, the United Way, the Junior League of Buffalo and Barnes & Noble.
New books may be dropped off at any Wegmans location or The Buffalo News, among other sites to be listed in Buffalo News ads. More information is available at www.buffalo.com/booksforkids.