Bored of sheltering in place? So are the kids. Help fill their free time through ‘Chicago Reads’

With your help, the Sun-Times Charity Trust is again providing books through our “Chicago Reads” program. We match Chicago Public Schools students with people like you, who buy books online to deliver to kids to keep them reading during remote learning.

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Hey, you! Yeah, you. I’ve heard you talk about how bored you are. And your kids are bored, too!

I’ve heard your applause for those who are getting out there to help disadvantaged populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them profiled in this column. And I’ve heard you sighing about how you wish you could help in some small way.

Here’s the thing. We’ve got some small way.

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You may be familiar with the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust’s Chicago Reads program, which provides books to Chicago Public Schools youth in challenged neighborhoods on the South and West sides, at the end of each school year. It’s so they’ll have books to take home for summer reading.

We did it last year with your help, matching kindergarten thru 4th-grade students with people like you, who bought books and then dropped them off or had them delivered to schools. Together, we were able to gift every classroom in those grades at many schools.

Well, like everyone else, the pandemic is forcing us to pivot.

We figure if adults are complaining about boredom while we’re following Illinois’ stay-at-home order extended through May, the kids must be bouncing off the walls, too, likely glued to too much TV and computer screens after CPS online classes and homework.

We’re stepping in to help. “Chicago Reads” is sending books right now — not in June — to a bunch of schools. Though closed, these schools have dedicated teachers, administrators and volunteers willing to retrieve the books and ensure they get to all these kids.

The books will be delivered to their homes through CPS’ meal delivery program.

We’ve taken on eight elementary schools that agreed to do this during the pandemic — that’s 2,205 K-4 students. And already, 320 “Book Buddies,” many of whom participated last year, have stepped up to sponsor 1,123 students.

“I’m SO thrilled to take part in thisprogram again!As a teacher, who is looking for a bit of normalcy herself, I think that it’s awesome that you’re finding a way to make this happen for the kids this year!Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the children!My books have been ordered and sent as of today!” writes one of our Book Buddies, Therese Pudela.

“Is it OK to send extra books? There are so many great titles that were suggested I can’t make up my mind,” Sally O’Connell, another Book Buddy, writes.

So we’re more than halfway there. Are you a “Book Buddy?” Can you be?

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Chicago Public Schools students peruse the books they received through the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust’s “Chicago Reads” program, gifted to them last year by generous “Book Buddies” like yourself for summer reading.

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Here’s an added incentive.

We know lots of shuttered businesses have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and we’ve figured out a way we can assist at least one sector: local bookstores. Many will surely face post-pandemic challenges to keeping their doors open. Here’s how we can help them, too:

When you sign up to be a “Book Buddy,” we’ll match you with one of our partner schools. You’ll be asked to purchase new books via your favorite online retailer — or one of our suggested local bookstores — and have them shipped directly to the school.

Many of our Book Buddies are thrilled to be able to simultaneously help these small businesses.

“Thank you so much for organizing this. I just spoke with the owner of The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square and she will be picking 10 terrific 4th-grade books to be shipped to Chopin Elementary on my behalf. She was very grateful for the order,” writes “Book Buddy” Deborah Darby Putman. “What a great ‘win’ for all parties involved.”

We agree.

We get nice letters like that all the time from folks like you — who like Pudela, O’Connell and Putman — were looking for some small way to help those in need during this unprecedented time.

So come on. As the pandemic forces remote learning onto these Chicago Public Schools kids, let’s occupy their free time with books — for both entertainment and continued learning — while spreading a lifelong love of reading.

Become a “Book Buddy” today.

To follow Maudlyne Ihejirika’s advice and learn more about Chicago Reads, go to charitytrust.suntimes.com/chicago-reads-program.

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