November 30, 2009

50,000 books await kids at annual giveaway

Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving with a huge box of books

Every year at this time, newspapers and airwaves are filled with stories (and ads) about the new "hot" toy every child must find under the tree on Christmas morning. This year, believe it or not, it's a robotic, hamster, from China, or somewhere. If you haven't already bought 'em, forget it. They're sold out and you're a failure as a parent.

Yeah, that's what they'd like you to believe. But the truth is, the rat's batteries will die and it will disappear under the couch in a couple of weeks (along with last year's Darth Vader or Furby thingie.)

What will your kid play with then? Well, if they're lucky, with the best toy ever -- a book. No batteries needed: only a willing imagination.

There are adults in Racine who know the value of childrens' books, people who spend all year working quietly behind the scenes to make sure that thousands of kids receive the gift of a lifetime this holiday season -- even kids whose parents couldn't afford the little rat ... er, hamster, even if it were available.

Instead of a few hamsters, they're giving away some 50,000 books!

This Saturday, Dec. 5, is the 7th Annual Kids Holiday Book Giveaway sponsored by Cops 'N Kids and the State Street Civic Association. Any kid -- from pre-school to middle school -- is welcome to choose an armful of books at the event, held inside one of Merchants Moving's cavernous storage rooms, 1215 State St., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As usual, there'll be more than books available: Santa will be on hand, and Christmas music will be playing, and the Racine Police Athletic Association will make SafeAssured IDs available at no charge.

And, given the event's mother, former Police Officer Julia Burney-Witherspoon -- who handed out books to kids as a way of teaching them not to fear the police -- policemen, firemen, FBI agents and, new this year, Sheriff's deputies, will be on hand to talk to the kids, maybe even autograph some books. For her efforts, Burney-Witherspoon was named ABC-TV's Person of the Year in 2008.

In past years, some 2,000 kids have braved the line, sat down on the floor and rummaged through the seemingly-endless piles of colorful books to find favorites to bring home for themselves, or even gift-wrapped for others. Last year, 40,000 books were given away.

This year -- I know, I said it before, but it's an incredible number that bears repeating -- there will be 50,000 books! Boxes of them line two long corridors at Merchants, awaiting scores of volunteers who will sort them into age-appropriate stacks later this week. The books have been donated by publishing houses, distributors like Treasures Media (the Christian bookstore company planning to build a distribution center in the Southside Industrial Park), book drives held by schools, churches, service clubs -- even the Postal Service.

Jim Eastman of Merchants Moving ticks off the names of the organizations supplying volunteers, who will open the hundreds of boxes of books: the Racine Public Library, the Healthcare Network, the Volunteer Service Center. Other partners include Barnes and Noble, the YMCA, Culver's, Educators Credit Union, Johnson Bank, the Safe Kids Coalition, the United Way, the Junior League. While Eastman is talking, he's surrounded by a couple of hundred room-sized wooden crates -- each holding about 1,200 pounds of stored goods -- that his crews will move to other parts of the warehouse to make room for Saturday's hordes of insatiable kids. "No problem," he says. Eastman became involved with the program more than a decade ago, when Officer Burney -- she wasn't married then -- found about 10,000 abandoned books while answering a burglary call... and came up with the idea of giving them away to kids.

Now, more than 70 other communities have copied the Cops 'N Kids concept she pioneered.

But how many of them will give away 50,000 books this Saturday? Far as we know, just one.

Santa, Eastman and Julia Burney Witherspoon at last year's event

Go here for our report and pictures from last year's book giveaway.


  1. Julia is such a wonderful, kind-hearted person and not too many people like her exist anymore! I love working/volunteering with her because she makes everyone feel so loved, welcome, and she just makes you feel like you're worth something. IMHO, I think alot of the kids out there feel worthless and she genuinly(sp?) makes them realize they are worth so much! We love you Julia!


  3. What a blessing this program it!

  4. I heard that Burney makes 75-85 thousand dollars a year running this program. Can anyone confirm this?

    Pete or Dustin? Or would that be to cutting edge for your journalism skills?

    If it's true, I'm a little disappointed, thinking this was all volunteer work.

  5. 6:23, From what I understand Julia is paid a Police officers wage, that with the benny package could equal 75k. I have worked with Julia and for what she does 75k is not enough!

  6. anoan 6:23, what a little troll you are. You heard 100 percent wrong, just like the rumor that there won't be guns or ammo with Obama in office. Wrong info. Pete and Dustin don't need to spend their time addressing far fetched ridiculous remarks. She gets paid a salary as a police office, period.

  7. The Merchants of Racine12/01/2009 8:29 AM

    Kudos to Jim and Bonnie Eastman who provide the boxes, storage and moving for this project. Two blessed angels!

  8. Heather in Caledonia12/01/2009 8:35 AM

    This is such a great program!! I plan on donating some of my kids' old books to this program next year. It is so important for kids to learn to love to READ. Congratulations on have such a large give-away!!

  9. She is no longer a police officer. She is retired and receives a pension, which she earned, - along with whatever cops n kids pays her. According to her application for federal money, her salary is $50k/year.

  10. Thanks for the great article Pete.
    It is not too late to donate books for this year. Drop off at Merchants Moving and Storage anytime before Saturday - 1215 State Street. There are books for all ages at the event.

  11. 6:23 - You are an idiot.

  12. Julia receives a well deserved pention, that's great! But on the funny side I don't think she can hop those fences anymore! LOL (I remember her in her younger police work days) Good story.

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Anon 5:06 If you want to comment here, do it without name-calling and without profanity.

  15. What Cops N Kids does is great -- of course. Anything we can do to get kids reading! Would be nice if she would lend some support for RUSD libraries. Kids in our elementary schools get about 18 classes in the library per school year. Having the chance to check out library books of your choice is important. Many RUSD students will be taking advantage of the book giveaway -- thanks to all those who donated books and make this event possible.

  16. Pete:

    You are inconsistent. You remove one posting for "name calling", yet a few posts above someone is called an idiot.

    Great work!! You are clueless.

  17. Anon 2:04 -

    You are THE IDIOT. I asked a simple question, nothing more. Don't like it??? Too bad.

  18. Anon 7:39. I could assure you that the removed comment went far beyond "idiot," but feel free to believe whatever you want.

    And remember what Emerson said.

  19. Love this give away. The volunteers are so cheery. Autographed books that can be gift wrapped. It is just really nice for the kids and their parents.

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. A black Santa!! How cool is that???