A book drive thrives, thanks to a community partnership

Before COVID-19, the MassMutual Federal Credit Union used to hold its book drives the old-fashioned way: put a big box in the hallway outside the credit union’s office to collect new and gently used children’s books from the 6,000 or so people who passed by each day.

The approach worked in part because the credit union’s office had a highly visible location right next to the cafeteria. The results were mostly good, lots of books for young children that were passed on to City Connects Coordinators in the Springfield Public School system — and a few very old dictionaries that could serve as doorstops.

Once Covid hit, however, Samantha Barnes, the credit union’s Marketing Specialist, had to adapt and so did City Connects Coordinator, Stephanie Sanabria. What they ended up with was a better book drive that more closely meets the needs of students and schools.

In 2020, when pandemic closures emptied out the credit union’s building, Barnes moved the book drive online. She made a list of classic books, including “Goodnight Moon,” and reached out through email and social media to ask credit union members to buy copies through a custom Amazon wishlist. Barnes also asked reached out to MassMutual affiliates in all 50 states to broaden the pool of donors.

In 2021, Barnes asked Sanabria for book recommendations, and Sanabria asked for books for older children.

All along Barnes was also getting book ideas from the “book influencers” on YouTube and Instagram (or as the influencers say BookTube and Bookstagram) who share book recommendations with kids.

In 2022, the book drive grew even more. Sanabria reached out to more of her fellow coordinators, and they put together a comprehensive list of books based on requests from teachers and librarians. The credit union did a hybrid collection of books – accepting in-person and online donations – and collected a total of 579 books, enabling Sanabria to send 18 boxes of books to 18 Springfield schools.

“Stephanie has a really good pulse on what schools need,” Barnes says, noting that City Connects help is a crucial part of getting books into kids’ hands. “Before we worked with City Connects, getting books to kids was not as efficient and oftentimes the books didn’t stay within the local community.”

Sanabria adds, “It’s a more tailored partnership. The credit union wants our input, which means we can tailor requests to the needs of our students. I even received a request from a coordinator who wanted a few books to set up a lending library in her office.”

Now that the book drive is done, the credit union is gearing up for its school supplies drive, which will be in August.

“Last year, we focused on getting inclusive items for special education classes, so it was cool to be able to collect things that can be harder to acquire,” Barnes says. “This year we’ve asked Stephanie to tell us what the teachers need so that we’re not just sending over things that aren’t needed.”

“Every year, we’re enhancing things,” Sanabria adds.

It’s this kind of open and creative communication between City Connects coordinators and our generous community partners – that helps us get the right services – and the right books – to the right students at the right time.

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