BUCYRUS — If you test positive for COVID-19, you'll likely get a call from your local health department. If you're a child in Crawford County, you'll also get a free book.
For the last three years, Crawford Reads 20 has given away new and gently used books to kids across Crawford County. Volunteers typically distribute books at school, church and community events.
The pandemic has made it harder to get reading materials in the hands of children through traditional channels.
“With COVID impacting people’s gatherings in 2021, the schools didn’t have their big open houses like they used to and if they did they tried to restrict the number of people,” said Kate Siefert, commissioner of Crawford County Public Health.
Some Crawford Reads 20 volunteers work at the health department, so Siefert was aware of the pandemic’s impact on the program. She reached out to Barb Scott, executive director of Crawford Reads 20 and the children's librarian at Bucyrus Public Library.
“It was Kate’s idea and we just kind of latched on to it," Scott said. “This was a way to get books out there.”
Crawford Reads 20 keeps Siefert supplied with children’s books, which she sorts and mails out each week. The program typically serves children up to age 12, but there’s some wiggle room.
“If there’s a sibling who’s like 13 or 14, I’ll pop a book in for them too,” Siefert said.
The health department began mailing out books during the first week of September. Siefert says she mails between eight and 10 books a week. The week of Sept. 16, it peaked at 26.
More than 200 books were mailed out from September to December.
“In just three short months, we mailed 215 books to children ages 12 and younger along with a short note to let them know we were thinking of them and hoping they feel better soon," Siefert said on the health department's Facebook page.
Crawford Reads 20 was based on a similar program in Marion. Both groups promote early literacy and reading to children regularly. They also serve as local affiliates for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which partners with organizations to mail a free, high quality books to children from birth to age five.
Crawford Reads 20 expounds on that mission even further through its own book distribution program. In just three years, Crawford Reads 20 has given out 17,211 books.
“They know the value and the importance of reading to your children every day, even if it's just 20 minutes a day," Siefert said. "It can really support child growth and development.”
Crawford Reads 20 helps sign children up for the Imagination Library, but does not handle the distribution. The books it gives away come from community supporters.
Studies have shown a correlation between access to print materials and high reading comprehension and spelling skills. Regular book reading at an early age also has a positive impact on children's academic performance and language development.
Scott said children whose parents read to them regularly also benefit socially.
“The more words that a child goes into school knowing, it helps them in everything," Scott said. “If the parent is reading to the child, there’s that together time. There's that connection.”
Individuals who wish to support the Crawford Reads 20 program can donate funds or new or gently used books.