must find under the tree on Christmas morning. This year, believe it or not, it's a robotic rat...um, 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.
Go here for our report and pictures from last year's book giveaway.