Canongate third-graders collect hundreds of books for needy families

Rebecca Leftwich / The Newnan Times-Herald

Mollie Wilson’s third grade class at Canongate Elementary School have collected more than 300 books in their Hull Kids Books Drive. Pictured are front, from left, Cora Stroud, Brooklyn Gratzer and Lucy Kate Wilkes; second row, Jack Neer, Liam Brooks, Gabriel Payne, Cavyn Fleming, Chloe Stevens, Brooklyn Middlebrooks, Addisen Wood and Ramona Hooper; back, Zeke Poferl, Claire McMillan, Ellie Fain, Lauren Hall, Kate Thornton, Preston Miller, Emery Sink, Garrett McKenzie and Wilson; not pictured, Brady Lamirande and Malakai Holston.

Who knew that a woman who passed away in 1935 could still be helping families in 2022?

Third-graders in Mollie Wilson’s class at Canongate Elementary School know, because Jane Addams’ story inspired them to help other kids.

It started when Wilson read “The House That Jane Built” aloud to her students. That activity has resulted in the collection of more than 300 new and gently used books to be distributed to children who might not have access to enough reading materials.

The Hull Kids Books Drive, named for the social settlement Addams founded in 1889, will partner with Bridging the Gap and other organizations that can distribute the books to families in need.

One of Wilson’s students, Lucy Kate Wilkes, said her class learned about how Addams came to found Hull-House and worked to make people self-sufficient.

“She saw something she could never forget and she wanted to make a difference in the world,” Wilkes said. “She went on a trip with a friend in London, and she saw a person begging (a vendor) for the leftover fruits and vegetables that didn’t sell. And then she went to the dirtiest neighborhood in Chicago and she made a house that any person could come in and learn to do stuff for themselves.”

According to , Addams and the Hull-House residents provided kindergarten and day care facilities for the children of working mothers; an employment office; an art gallery; libraries; English and citizenship classes; and theatre, music and art classes.

As the complex expanded to include 13 buildings, Hull-House supported more clubs and activities such as a Labor Museum, the Jane Club for “single working girls,” meeting places for trade union groups, and a wide array of cultural events. It is no longer a working settlement but is an operational museum.

Hull-House was located in Chicago, in the midst of a densely populated urban neighborhood peopled by Italian, Irish, German, Greek, Bohemian, and Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants.

During the 1920s, African Americans and Mexicans began to put down roots in the neighborhood and joined the clubs and activities at Hull-House. And when they learned Hull-House was a place where people of different cultures and languages ​​were taught to speak English and to communicate effectively, it sparked in Wilson’s students enthusiasm for what would become the book drive.

“Reading is such a key to learning in school,” Wilson said. “So if you’re read to when you’re little, or if you have books to read, when you go home after school, then that makes school even easier. And you learn even more to have a window to the world basically. So we wanted to give some other folks the opportunities that maybe we have at our house.”

Two stories from “The House That Jane Built” particularly impacted Canongate third-grader Brooklyn Gratzer.

“One night (Addams) went to bed and somebody broke in,” Gratzer said. “She caught him and they were about to jump out of the window, but she pulled him out of the window and told him to go out the front door and to come back tomorrow. And he left and came back, and then she gave him a job.

“And then there were two boys who threw a rock at her window because they were bored, and she didn’t do anything,” she said. “She didn’t get mad. Instead, she built a playground for the community.”

Gratzer said she found Addams really inspirational.

“(Her story) kind of made us get an idea that kids could do something for other people,” she said.

The students formulated a plan, created a handmade flyer and made an appointment with Principal John Vaughn to make their pitch. They even wrote a vision statement: “We believe all children should be able to dream and learn about the world.”

Once Vaughn approved their project, the students decorated collection boxes to place throughout the school and handed out printed flyers that explained why the project was important, how to donate and where the books would be distributed.

Wilson’s third graders reminded their classmates during morning announcements every day to bring in new and gently used books for the drive.

At first, the students had planned to collect books for homeless students. But Wilson said during a study of budgeting and economics, the students decided to expand their distribution.

“We were able to see that even though people may be working hard and doing all of the right things, sometimes unexpected surprises come up and it takes some of your money, and then there’s no extra to spend on books,” Wilson said.

Students from Wilson’s class worked together, often giving up their recess time to get boxes ready, work on flyers and sort books by subject and age. They even donated their own outgrown books or books they had already read.

And between April 25-May 6, the Hull Kids Books Drive collected hundreds of books for distribution through local charities.

“We just all wanted to work together to help others,” Gratzer said.

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