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The effort is called read.repeat, which is ironic considering what Vance Tomasi repeats to himself over and over again as he sorts through thousands of donated books.
“Resist, Vance, resist the urge to read.”
It’s not that Vance doesn’t like reading. He loves it. But there is work to be done as he and Farnell Middle School classmate Chase Hartman collate books for the charity they created last year when they were students at Mary Bryant Elementary School. In 16 months, read.repeat has found homes for more than 36,000 donated books, saving nearly 1,500 trees in the process.
"A lot of people don’t have books," Vance said. "And also, a lot of people are wasting paper.”
The charity started with a donation from one source but, “Eventually, people in the community started donating books to us,” Vance said. And “social media has helped us reach out to many people,” Chase added.
The books are hand-sorted into categories. Cookbooks here, novels there. Children’s books are divided by reading level. This process was once done at a parents’ office, then in a garage but eventually a storage unit as efforts outpaced available real estate. Once, Vance recalled, the shelves collapsed under the weight of the books and jammed the doors.
“It took us 30 minutes to open the storage unit,” he said.
read.repeat is a team effort. The boys get help from Scouts, classmates, siblings and, of course, their parents, since the only driving these sixth-graders can do involves books.
Recipients of the books have included Hillsborough County Schools such as Robles Elementary (1,400 books), Woodbridge Elementary (825) and Dickenson Elementary (3,069!). The boys gave 2,050 titles to Sheehy Elementary after a flood and 1,087 to Lee Elementary after the fire that destroyed its historic campus.
They spend about 4-5 hours a week on the books, and sometimes more.
Their current goal is to hit 50,000 donated books, and the number is meticulously tracked with a counter on their website, ReadRepeat.org.
Some titles – a book printed in 1914, for example – are auctioned on eBay to help cover costs such as the storage unit, shelving and gas money. But a vast majority are put back into circulation via donation, including at “little libraries” that sometimes crop up on street corners. Chase said his family always packs some books in the car for vacations, and read.repeat has added to little libraries in about a dozen states. Donations overall have been spread to 14 states.
The camapign's website speaks to a broader environmental mission for the boys, whose top 10 ways kids can save the planet includes a call to drink from reusable containers instead of plastic water bottles and encouragements to plant a garden.
Vance explained that the easiest way to recycle books is to get them in front of multiple readers rather than just tossing them into curbside bins.
“We can’t recycle books because of the glue used in binding,” Vance said.
The boys’ efforts were recognized this summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who gave Vance and Chase the President’s Environmental Youth Award. The EPA honored the boys in Washington, D.C. and a citation on the EPA website includes the duo’s quest to hit 50,000 donations.
How can you help? Vance can summarize in three words: “Give us books.”
For more information on how to support read.repeat, visit www.readrepeat.org.View Full Album