New York’s libraries are important (and increasingly endangered) local cultural touchstones, but there’s just something about actually owning a book that feels special. It’s also beneficial: The number of books in the home also correlates significantly with higher reading scores for children, according to some studies. Unfortunately, 61 percent of low-income families have no books at all in their home for their kids.
Brooklyn Book Bodega, a nonprofit organization that has been around for about five years, hopes to change all that through specific campaigns and events, including a book giveaway that will take over the Brooklyn Navy Yard on February 3.
“Books are pretty expensive,” says Rebecca Cohen, the cofounder and executive director of Brooklyn Book Bodega. “When you’re making minimum wage and have to pay for rent and food, it’s almost impossible to build out a home library. Our ultimate goal is to create lifelong readers because they will have the agency, independence and resources to find information and satiate their curiosity.”
To carry out their mission, Cohen and her cofounders have been working with schools, other nonprofits, food pantries and more. In September, the Brooklyn Book Bodega supplied books for a back to school night at East New York’s Manhattan Star Academy says Christie Burnham, a teacher there. “Parents had the opportunity to take as many as they needed to help build their libraries and they loved it,” she remembers.
The nonprofit receives tomes, all in “giftable conditions,” from a variety of sources, including drop sites, collaborations with businesses collecting works and relationships with publishers and bookstores.
The novels are mostly stored in a warehouse space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which the organization refers to as “the hub.” Although not normally accessible to the public, the Brooklyn Book Bodega opens it up for frequent giveaways, including the one taking place next month.
Attendees will get to walk away with as many books as they can carry for free, but they will have to pre-register to gain access. Only those 10 and older, even if accompanied by a parent,will be able to attend.
As for the kinds of books on offer, they run the gamut: novels, non-fiction titles and children’s publications all share space.
The nonprofit does, however, make a point to stock options that reflect different people’s “identity, culture and family background,” notes Cohen, specifically serving readers of up to 18 years old (books for adults are usually available at the giveaways as well).
“We got books that were both in English and Spanish because people came from different places,” says Burnham. “The parents were so grateful because they don’t have many resources, some even live in shelters. Brooklyn Book Bodega is really a blessing.”
The nonprofit deepens the scope of its mission by weaving books and reading into the spaces that New Yorkers are always frequenting, subtly turning the practice into an intrinsic part of city dwellers’ lifestyles.
“Think of parks, for example,” says Cohen. “Basically, anywhere that families are in because this access should just be all over the place.”
As for the name of the endeavor, consider it an homage to the city where it all started.
“When we started, we felt like access to literacy should be as near and close as your corner bodega, just part of what you do and where you are,” explains Cohen. “That sort of ethos has been part of our thinking all along.”
The next Brooklyn Book Bodega giveaway will be held on February 3 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. 141 Flushing Avenue, suite 407 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free, but attendees need to pre-register here.