Volunteer carries love of reading a long way

Books for Kids Day is labor of literacy for event founder

April 25, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

At 75, Bob Geer is long retired from a marketing career, but he remains involved in a bookish venture.

While the former Cockeysville resident spends much of his time in Osprey, Fla., he makes sure he returns to Baltimore for the annual Books for Kids Day, an event he helped launch in 1996.

On Saturday, Geer will mark the 15th year of the book drive in a tent on the parking lot of Polytechnic Institute-Western High School, where he and dozens of volunteers will collect new and gently used books from donors who drive by or walk in. The volunteers will then sort the books by category — quite a task, given that 100,000 books were donated during the 2009 event.

The event grew from Baltimore Reads, a 22-year-old organization dedicated to adult literacy.

"This is really the annual celebration of Baltimore Reads and just for kids," Geer said. "People will bring 40 or 50 books in at a time. We are on the calendar at many schools. Those schools or Scout groups have done book drives for us that have brought in as many as 5,000."

The donated volumes are packed in cartons and shipped to the Baltimore Reads Book Bank, which occupies a niche in The Baltimore Sun's North Calvert Street building. The bank will eventually distribute books to schools, Head Start Centers, social service agencies, community organizations, homeless shelters and to families who cannot afford a home library of their own.

"I learned early on during this effort how reading is the basis of a lifelong education, which, especially in this day and age, is so important," he said. "It all starts with reading, but in so many homes, there are no books."

Geer, the president of the Kelly and Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation and the father of Kelly, was an early supporter of the Ripken Learning Center, which focuses much of its efforts on literacy issues.

"The idea is to get books into people's hands so they can build their own libraries," he said. "These are free books that people can keep and maybe, hang onto forever."

The bank is open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Since Baltimore Reads began more than 20 years ago, the bank has distributed more than 1.3 million free books.

"The bank is set up like a library," Geer said. "Representatives from various organizations can choose from the shelves. Teachers can come in and stock up and give the books away to kids at the end of the year. Then they can come in and restock for the new year."

He has even lined up publishers willing to ship excess volumes to the bank.

Since 1996, Geer has dedicated one day a year just to the collection of children's books. Experience tells him there will be quantity as well as quality on Saturday, he said.

"There is no such thing as having enough books," he said. "Giving free books to kids — what could be better! We need them all, whether they are picture, early reader, chapter books or young adult books."

He has no plans to retire from his volunteer job, even though he is doing much of the work long-distance.

"This effort is part of my life, even part of my identity," he said. "I strongly believe in the mission of literacy for all."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Books for Kids Day
The event takes place Saturday, rain or shine, on the Polytechnic Institute/ Western High School parking lot at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane. For information, go to BooksforKidsDay.org or call 410-752-3595, Ext.1118.
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