Gift of words

Toll Gate club collects books, funds for library in South Africa

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“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world,” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said. “Love of books is best of all.”

Because of the efforts of Toll Gate High School’s newly founded Gender Equality Club, children half a globe away will soon have the world of books opened to them.

Toll Gate’s Gender Equality Club was established this past fall by juniors Lindsay Russell and Victoria LaFazia. With a mission of raising awareness about equal rights and the importance of providing opportunity for all regardless of gender, these young women wanted to explore feminism and help others at the same time.

“Tori and I were both intrigued by the feminism movement, so we decided to form the club,” Russell said. “It took a lot of work, paperwork and a letter of intent with the principal, but we got the club started and at our first meeting 30 people showed up. I was excited.”

Club participants come from all grades, with history teacher Kate Rauch serving as the advisor. The group meets every few weeks to discuss news updates and political and social events.

“It is a nice mixture. We have a lot of guy friends in our group, too,” Russell said of the club’s members. “Ms. Rauch has been involved with the feminist movement for some time. She’s been really great and a huge help to us.”

After the club was formed, Russell spent time looking for a charitable project for the group that fit the theme of gender equality. She found the African Library Project (ALP), an organization that builds libraries in South Africa, through an online search. ALP promotes equal opportunity education in some of the more impoverished South African villages, where the illiteracy rate among children is extremely high.

“The literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa is only 63 percent,” Russell said. “Fifty-three million children in the same area aren’t in school, and 176 million adults can’t read, so there’s a real problem. We thought this was something we could help with.”

After contacting the ALP, they were tasked with funding a library by collecting 1,000 children’s books and $500 for shipping costs by the middle of February. So far, they have obtained about 350 books and $200 from donors and through the club’s collaborations with local businesses.

“This book drive has taken up our entire first semester. I didn’t think it was going to be as big of a project as it has been, but we need to get involved and help,” Russell said. “On a Thursday night in December, for a four-hour period, if visitors said they were with the Gender Equality Club at Toll Gate, we received 50 percent of what they spent on their meal. That was really awesome, and we appreciated it.”

The drive is collecting age-appropriate books for children from preschool age to fifth grade. Books do not need to be new, but must be in fair condition, legible and complete. Book drop-off bins are located throughout Toll Gate, and Russell will personally pick up books from prospective donors if needed.

“I’ve been surprised at how quickly the boxes are filling up. It’s fantastic,” Russell said. “If anyone is interested in this, they don’t need to give just books. We do need shipping money to get these books overseas, so we would be thrilled to accept donations to get the books to where they need to go.”

For more information or to participate in the book drive, contact Lindsay Russell via email at lindsayrussell98@gmail.com. Books are expected to be shipped by March 31.

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