Donor Desk: Risa Schwartz

Donor Desk: Risa Schwartz

What issues are you passionate about?

I come from a family of immigrant artists and teachers, who worked their whole lives to expose my brother and me to the magic of music, culture, and literature. The last has been especially important to me. Throughout my life, I’ve turned to books, which have opened my world, challenged my beliefs, and inspired my creativity. Watching the children in my life and community discover the power of the written word excites me even more than reading myself. What new ideas, passions, philosophies, games, and beauty are they uncovering? Which will they learn to invent, write down themselves, and share with their kids? I’m passionate about making sure all young people, especially those historically excluded from intellectual spaces, have access to high-quality reading material.

What organization are you writing about today?

I’m writing to introduce the Children’s Book Project, which is devoted to providing quality books to children who need them. The Project collects and purchases new and gently used books, which teachers, parents, and other youth advocates distribute to the community for free. Since its founding in 1992, the Project has given out nearly three million books. The Project is new to the SFF community, so I’m excited to introduce it to this wonderful collective of community-minded folks.

How did you get involved with the Children’s Book Project?

I learned about the Project from a close friend, a family doctor, who has for many years obtained free children’s books to distribute to her patients at San Francisco public health clinics. For many kids, these were the first books they owned, even the first in their households. I couldn’t get over that feeling of taking home a book for the first time — the adventure and excitement of that moment. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What inspires you about the Children’s Book Project?

The Children’s Book Project really embodies the ideal of the lean-but-mighty community service organization. When it was founded nearly 30 years ago, it was as a direct response to teachers and other allies of children who saw how many kids had no books in their lives: not at home, not from school, not from the public library. The heart and efficacy of the Children’s Book Project really lies in the simplicity of its goal, providing books to children who need them, and the dynamism and community responsiveness that guides their work. The Project has always done a lot with a little. When I contribute, I know that every dollar I donate and every minute I volunteer is used to the maximum extent to put books into kids’ hands at home, in classrooms, and in other community spaces.

How has COVID-19 affected their work?

This touches on another thing I love about the Project. It responds so dynamically to the needs of our wonderful Bay Area educators and parents. The pandemic has been especially hard on kids, with schools and other youth services closed to protect community health, leaving many Children’s Book Project clients in dire need of educational materials, or even just an escape into a good story. The Project completely pivoted operations since the March shelter-in-place order to deliver approximately 20,000 books to children who need them, including 10,000 books added to SFUSD distance learning packets. Because educators and community organizations cannot come to the Project, the staff and volunteers are reaching out to them in new ways, like providing books for distribution at school lunch pickup sites.

How can we get involved?

Great question! The Children’s Book Project needs to find a new space, as its current home in an S.F. Unified School District building (provided for free for the last six years) is slated to be converted to much-needed teacher housing in February 2021. To keep providing books to children who need them, the Project needs a new free or affordable leased space before then. If you have leads, I’d be delighted to hear from you! (They need ~2,000 – 6,000+ square feet, an elevator or ground floor with ramp, and some street or reserved parking.)  You can also help by hosting a book drive, donating your gently used children’s books, introducing them to opaque/invitation only grantors who fund education and literacy, donating money so they can purchase high-demand books, like bilingual early readers, and, if necessary, paying for a lease. The Project is a small organization with a big heart and big reach. It’s a Bay Area treasure needed now more than ever, that shouldn’t have to close its doors for lack of a new book site.