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Student helps spread joy of reading to kids in need; Nardin senior runs Books for Kids drive at 20 area high schools

No matter if it's gently used or brand new, a book can make a real difference in a child's life.

That was the motivation for Gabrielle Jehle, a high school senior at Nardin Academy, to help coordinate the Books for Kids campaign at about 20 local high schools.

The annual book drive, which runs through April 30, began its last 10 days Friday with a special collection at the Wegmans on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

For the daylong event, the public was encouraged to visit the store, make a book or monetary donation and meet one of their favorite WGRZ Channel 2 celebrities.

Anyone who donated five new children's books or $25 received a free "Headlines & History" book, a compilation of historic front pages from The Buffalo News. All the books collected go to Project Flight, a family literacy program that sorts and organizes the books and distributes them to children in need across Western New York.

As the student coordinator for the Books for Kids campaign, Gabrielle's job involves running a drive at the high schools during the month of April, a job that includes setting up collection bins and putting up posters at each location.

"We encourage students to go out and buy a book to donate," she said. But some students like to donate books they have already read and are still in good shape, and that's just fine with Gabrielle.

"A book is a book. Whether gently used or new, it can influence a child's life," she said.

Gabrielle is no stranger to community involvement. About six years ago, she started her own nonprofit called "Bundles For Babies" at Eastern Niagara Hospital, formerly Lockport Memorial Hospital. For the annual drive, new outfits, receiving blankets, hats and other necessary items were collected and donated to families lacking adequate clothing for their newborns.

"My grandma was a maternity nurse there, and many of the babies would go home without a lot of clothes," she explained. "We've collected thousands of items of clothing" over the years.

Gabrielle was a member of Youth Leadership Erie County in her junior year. And this is the second year she has volunteered as the student coordinator for the Books for Kids campaign.

"It was an experience" in 2011, "and I'm happy to do it again," she said.

This year marks the 18th year of the community drive. Last year, 112,509 books were distributed.

The Books for Kids project started as a cooperative effort by The Buffalo News, Project Flight and Buffalo State College. The campaign has grown to include WGRZ Channel 2, Wegmans, the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and the Junior League of Buffalo.

More than 2 million books have been distributed through the program.

Each year, dozens of organizations and individuals contribute hundreds of hours of volunteer time to gather, box, transport, load, unload, sort, label and distribute the books to children in need in Western New York. The children receiving these books might not otherwise have the chance to possess a book of their own.

In addition to the donation of books, the hope for this year's campaign is to raise $20,000 to purchase bilingual books, Braille books, multicultural books and specialty books for children with disabilities.

Checks can be made payable to Books for Kids/Project Flight and sent to Books for Kids c/o The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo NY 14240 or online through www.buffalo.com/booksforkids.

email: dswilliams@buffnews.com