By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
LEIPSIC — It looked like a scene from Santa’s workshop.
About a dozen volunteers, armed with rolls of red-and-green holiday paper, gathered in a large meeting room at the Leipsic Community Center to tackle the job of wrapping books that are headed to some 2,000 elementary students in Putnam County schools.
“Obviously, there’s kids that don’t get a lot for Christmas. At least they’re guaranteed to get a wrapped book for Christmas,” said Kristen Pickens, director of the community center.
The program is called Chapters for Children.
“Last year was our first official Christmas being open,” said Pickens. “Everybody was asking us what we were going to be doing for Christmas. And we sat around and thought we wanted to do something different. So we decided we would give books.”
The idea led to over 600 new wrapped books for students at Leipsic Elementary and Leipsic St. Mary’s Catholic School, from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“When we did it for Leipsic last year they sent us pictures of these kids. It was so cool, the smiles on their faces when they got the books. It was neat,” said Pickens.
The program was expanded this year to include students at Ottawa Elementary, Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, Glandorf Elementary, Pandora-Gilboa and Miller City.
Pickens said donors stepped forward as sponsors. For example, the Ottawa-Glandorf Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club of Ottawa covered the Ottawa and Glandorf schools.
“So every one of the schools has a sponsor. A donor has come forward, or multiple donors to cover the costs of the books,” Pickens explained.
In some of the larger schools, she noted, not enough donations were received, so only students in kindergarten through fifth grade will receive books.
“But hopefully next year we’ll be able to get even more donations to continue it in those schools,” she said.
Pickens said they deliberately organized the program to provide books for older children so as not to conflict with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library which already operates in Putnam County. That program is open to children from birth through age 5.
“We are an extension of the program because where they stop, we start,” said Pickens.
Books were ordered from Book Outlet, an online discount book seller. And organizers watched for sales to make sure they made the best use of donors’ money.
Among the books they received were classics like “Treasure Island,” along with “Ten True Tales,” a popular series among youth. Each book in the series shares 10 true stories focusing on a specific theme such as police heroes and young survivors of the Titanic.
As the books arrived, office administrator Jessica Anderson checked each of them online to determine the appropriate reading level. She categorized each book by reading level, grade, and whether it was more appropriate for a boy or girl.
The next step was putting out a call for volunteers to help wrap the books. Several sessions were held at the community center, with Pickens noting that all ages offered their time to help.
“They all said they liked wrapping presents. That’s why they came,” she said.
Additionally, employees at Union Bank and POET Biorefining and members of the National Honor Society at Leipsic High School and the Ottawa-Glandorf Key Club helped with tthe wrapping. Employees at Protec in Leipsic offered to finish the job.
The books will be delivered to the schools the week of Dec. 16 for distribution to the students before Christmas vacation.
The project has been a lot of work, said Pickens, “but it’s going to be worth it.”
Organizers hope to expand the program next year to hopefully include students at Columbus Grove and Continental schools.
The plan is to collect money throughout the year. Donations can be made on the community center’s website at www.theleipsiccenter.org, and Pickens said people have brought in cash and donations of new books.
“That’s one thing we don’t struggle with,” she said. “If we ask for help we generally will get help, above and beyond what we would need.”