Bess the Book Bus

“It has been quite an adventurous year. We have seen it as a true opportunity for growth and resilience. There has been an unexpected phenomenon of our work becoming even more personal on several levels. Some of our families that are now learning from home started contacting us directly at the beginning of the pandemic so that they could come pick up books for their children. Some families came to our office and with some families we met them in driveways or parking lots. We have become a lot closer with several of our teacher friends as well. It is so inspiring to see how hard they are working to reach their children and to make their children see that they are valued and cared for even when they can’t be face-to-face with their teachers. Several of our teacher friends have been going door to door delivering supplies and books to their e-learning students. Thanks to the relationships we have built both locally and nationwide through the years, we have been able to deliver over 50,000 books to our partners and families in 19 states, the Navajo Nation and Africa this year.

We call our new model of service physically distanced, socially engaged programming. I don’t like the term social distancing because it feels isolating. We haven’t been socially distant from our families or teachers, just physically distanced. The beautiful thing about books and stories is that they connect and comfort. When the pandemic started, I was inspired to see how many celebrities, athletes, politicians and world leaders took to social media to read stories aloud. These public figures turned to their favorite children’s stories as a source of comfort. That proved something to me that I have believed for a long time and that’s that stories comfort and connect us.

I say that this pandemic has taught us about resilience and growth because even when we are able to return to a more traditional model of outreach, we will be able to keep the secondary grab and go programming. We are considering setting up a teacher/parent free bookstore here at the office storage when we find new permanent storage. We really need a stand-alone building where we can receive pallet and freight deliveries and host volunteer sorting/bundling events for distributions as we are growing.

We were also impacted heavily by tropical storm ETA. Unfortunately, our storage flooded with 3 feet of rushing bay water. We lost over 3500 books. We were able to save at least that many and move them to temporary storage at our office. We are completing that move today. Even with that happening, we will be able to deliver over 2,500 books to students at six local schools, Tampa Housing Authority and ELC this week.

We are grateful to be able to continue our work through what has been a very trying year. We continue to be inspired by our students and teachers and other community partners that just won’t give up on seeing our students and families succeed. Thank you all for everything you do to make this community stronger. We appreciate your support.”

– Jennifer Frances, Bess the Book Bus