Thanks to a group of devoted women, what began as one mother's desire to provide her son's classmates with summer reading materials has developed into an effort to send books home with all second through fifth grade students in the Cassville School District at the close of the 2012-13 school year.
"At the end of the year, teachers encourage kids to read, read, read over the summer," said Kara Fletcher. "Well, you can't build a house if you don't have the tools."
Last year, Fletcher approached her son's teacher, Wilma Swofford, with an idea to provide a variety of books for kids to choose from at the end of the school year.
"It was really successful," said Fletcher. "The kids really enjoyed getting to select books. Some of them picked books for their siblings. They were very generous in their choosing.
"This also gave them an opportunity to explore," said Fletcher. "When you are purchasing a book, you look for something you know you will like, but if a book is given to a student, he or she will have more of an opportunity to try something new."
After seeing the reaction from the students, Fletcher became even more passionate about the effort.
"I wanted to open it up to everybody, take it to the next level," said Fletcher. "No child should be left behind. We should give everybody the opportunity to succeed."
Fletcher began to share her idea with other mothers who enjoy volunteering at Cassville Schools. The other moms were very receptive to her idea and excited to work toward the goal of providing all students in second through fifth grades with books for the summer.
"We have a box in each office, the primary, intermediate and middle schools, and our goal is to have 2,000 books by the end of the year," said Fletcher. "We are probably 25 percent of the way there right now, but the holidays are over and we are ready to get to work."
In addition to accepting donated books at each of the school offices, the group purchases books at discounted prices through book sales and thrift stores. The books are housed on shelves located in the Bright Futures room on the Cassville campus.
The group recently became aware of another need on the Cassville campus. Through a conversation with a school nurse, the mothers learned that it would be beneficial for each classroom to have a first aid kit.
"When we find a need, our goal is to meet and exceed that need," said Fletcher. "If they need bandaids, we want to give them alcohol wipes and sanitizer too."
The group set out to assemble 75 first aid kits for primary, intermediate and middle school classrooms. Inside each kit, they included 15 cough drops, nine alcohol wipes, four pairs of gloves and 21 bandaids.
"All of the items were donated," said Fletcher.
Out of the effort to provide students with books and classrooms with first aid kits, the group Books and Bandaids was born. Even though these two projects remain the main focus, the mothers work to meet other needs as they arise.
"We are a group of moms who want to make a difference and can help," said Fletcher. "Everybody has something to offer."
This year, when Books and Bandaids participants learned that the school secretaries set aside time to sort and bundle Box Top donations, the mothers volunteered to take on that task.
"We want to help anyway we can," said Fletcher. "We have a lot of fun coming together to make a difference.
"There are moms out there who want to help and want to contribute even if they don't have the monetary opportunities," said Fletcher. "With this group, they can contribute their time, creativity and willingness to help because they don't want any child to go without and they want everyone to have a chance to succeed."
Books and Bandaids accepts donations throughout the year. In addition to age appropriate new and used chapter books, the group gathers individually packaged antiseptic wipes and sting-kill wipes, single use packaged antibiotic ointment, latex-free bandaids, snack- and quart-size plastic bags, cherry flavored cough drops, q-tips, latex-free gloves, shoes, underwear and socks.
Students are encouraged to donate books received through the program back to the effort, and parents are invited to donate their children's used books to Books and Bandaids.
"Kids are raised in such a recycling world today," said Fletcher. "We hope that after they are finished with their books they will pass them on."
Books provided to students at the end of the 2012-13 school year will be dedicated in memory of Kristine Samuel, who passed away on Nov. 27, 2012.
"Kristine was a friend of all of ours," said Fletcher. "She would have believed in this and likely been instrumental in the group. We would like to see her legacy live on with this."
For more information on Books and Bandaids or to get involved in the group, call Fletcher at 846-3059.