Todd Tarifa, Blanchard, Tobie M. | 3/7/2006 4:30:37 AM
The images of children sitting idle moved Tennessee high school student Emily Hollingsworth to take action, and Hollingsworth inspired a whole community.
The teen started with a relatively small goal for collecting books for young victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I was hoping to get maybe 1,000 books to send to the shelters, but then the whole community got involved," said Hollingsworth, a junior at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School in Tennessee.
The project, dubbed Books For Katrina Kids, soon grew beyond Hollingworth’s expectations when she approached a local bookstore.
"They let us put drop boxes at their stores," she explained.
Glen Turner, the 4-H agent in Sevier County, Tenn., heard about the project and wanted to get his 4-H’ers involved. He asked Hollingsworth to speak to his clubs.
"The students just jumped on the idea when I presented it," Hollingsworth said. "They just started collecting like crazy."
Soon the 4-H’ers were collecting books in their schools and leaving stacks on the Hollingsworth’s front porch.
"They just really helped get the ball rolling," said Hollingsworth.
On Valentine’s Day, the group held a rally at the Sevier County courthouse to sort through the books.
"Everyone got involved in the counting and the sorting, and we announced the total count," explained Hollingsworth.
She and the community had collected 11,000 books – 10,000 more than she ever imagined.
"It was amazing how the project grew."
Then in mid-February (Feb. 18), Hollingsworth and her father – with a rented trailer in tow – drove 600 miles from Sevierville, Tenn., to the New Orleans metropolitan area to deliver the books to area schools and temporary living sites.
Around 7,500 of the books went to St. Bernard Unified School.
"They pretty much lost everything. The libraries lost everything." said Todd Tarifa, an LSU AgCenter 4-H agent in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Turner had contacted Tarifa to help distribute the books on Louisiana’s end. So Tarifa gathered area 4-H’ers to help unload the boxes of books at their final destinations.
"We’re also going to take 2,000 books back to the Baker trailer city," Tarifa said, adding that some of the books went to other temporary tent and trailer cities.
Wayne Warner, the principal at St. Bernard Unified School, said he will sort the books in two ways. Some will go for use in the classrooms, and others will be used to restock their library.
"The elementary teachers are always looking for story books, and we need to redevelop our library," said Warner.
Warner hopes to get the books into the classrooms as soon as possible, but the library won’t open until next school year. But he said he is very grateful for Hollingworth’s efforts.
"It is wonderful she would take the time to do that for people she doesn’t even know," Warner said. "She is really an awesome kid."