You get a book, and you get a book ...


A table at the Inver Grove Heights Police Department is filled with books to be sorted and put into bags that officers can put in their squad cars. The books were donated as part of a new collaboration between the department and Free Book Buggie to help get books into the hands of children in the community who may not have the means to get them themselves. (Hannah Burlingame/Review)

Inver Grove Heights PD partners with nonprofit to put books in kids’ hands

 

Not all families have the resources to provide books for their children, but in Inver Grove Heights there’s a new program that aims to help.

The Inver Grove Heights Police Department is partnering with a nonprofit, Free Book Buggie, to put books in kids’ hands.

So far, the department has some 500 donated books, which will be handed out to youth. Commander Josh Otis says the department wants to provide books to children who may not have the opportunity to otherwise find them.

“Some people might take for granted having Wi-Fi and internet access,” Otis says. “Some families might not have that and they might not have the ability to get books. We want to make sure we can provide books to anybody and everybody that would want one.”

 

A new partnership

Otis says he first heard about Free Book Buggie at the Early Childhood Learning Safety Fair earlier this year.

He was approached by Debbie Beck, founder of the nonprofit, to see if the department would be interested in collaborating.

Since the department didn’t have a permanent chief at the time, Otis waited until new Police Chief Melissa Chiodo got started and settled before bringing up the partnership.

Beck gave a presentation to the department’s command staff and the rest is history.

“It just sounded like a great fit and a great program for us, so we immediately said, ‘Of course, we’d love to be part of their program,’” Chiodo says.

Anytime an officer has contact with children, whether its on a call or they just run into a child they feel could use a little extra something, the officer will have a book they can offer them.

Chiodo says the department is focusing on children who may have family that can’t afford to buy them books or get them to libraries. 

While those kids are the focus, Chiodo says officers can hand out a book to any child who wants to read.

In previous years, officers would hand out stuffed animals — while kids may grow out of them, Otis says he doesn’t think they grow of out books.

“To be honest, it’s hard to keep stuffed animals together and clean,” Chiodo says. “That only reaches a certain audience.”

By having the flexibility of handing out books for babies to tweens and teens, it’s a tool for police to engage with more youth at a range of ages.

 

Getting books to those in need

Beck says she started the Free Book Buggie 15 months ago, coming up with the idea after a trip to Brazil where she saw kids flocking to a book mobile.

“I saw something that sparked my love for books and children,” she says.

Beck came back in the beginning of June 2018 and has been working on connecting with the community ever since. She says the idea behind Free Book Buggie is overcoming financial and transportation challenges faced by kids.

While the partnership is currently just with Inver Grove Heights PD, Beck says she looks forward to possibly expanding it to throughout Dakota County, and into the sheriff’s office.

 

Connecting with 

the community

Officers have already begun handing out books and Chiodo says the kids are liking it — she doesn’t think it’ll be long before she starts hearing from pleased parents.

“Whether it’s a kid who can’t afford it or a kid that’s always staring at a cellphone these days, I think parents are happy if you can get them to read something,” Chiodo says.

Beyond crime prevention, interacting with residents is a top priority for the department and Chiodo says the new partnership plays perfectly into building relationships with the community.

“Oftentimes youth might see us when someone they know has been hurt or might be going to jail, and this helps us with a proactive interaction when police aren’t needed,” she says.

More information about donating books to Free Book Buggie can be found at www.thefreebookbuggie.org/donate.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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