By John Mennell
This is the true story about a woman and a man who built a mountain of a million magazines for literacy in Trenton, New Jersey. Tell the world.
The Garth, a Welsh mountain located near the village of Pentyrch in Cardiff, is considered the inspiration for the book and film, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. It’s a tale about how a village bands together to carry buckets of dirt to the top of a hill to raise its elevation to 1,000 feet – enough to be classified as a mountain – against all odds, including a storm that wipes out their entire effort in an overnight downpour.
I’m involved with two literacy organizations that put reading materials into the hands of at-risk readers. I serve on the board of REACH a Child, providing bags of books to first responders to comfort children in crisis, and I founded MagazineLiteracy.org to erase illiteracy and poverty, worldwide, by putting new and recycled magazines and comics into the hands, homes, and hearts of at-risk readers. The first project of its kind or ambition, we are blessed by broad consumer and industry support from wonderful publishers like storytime in the United Kingdom, and so many others. With favorite titles for every reading age, interest, and language, magazines and comics are the post powerful literacy resources on the planet.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that there are over 18 million U.S. children in poverty. According to the U.S.Dept. of Education, there are over 1 million homeless students in American schools. Reading is Fundamental says that a shocking two-thirds of children in poverty – more than 12 million – have no books at home – zero. As a result, infants in poor households hear 30 million fewer words vital for growing their brain’s circuitry. Each night, 35,000+ women, many who are moms with children, leave all they own behind to seek the safety of a domestic abuse shelter. There are nearly 400,000 U.S. foster kids, and countless orphans, worldwide.
Reading is where it all begins. A child unable to read is a child lost. Adults unable to read were once children who didn’t learn how. With tens of millions of at-risk readers to reach in the U.S. alone, and hundreds of millions waiting, worldwide, we’ve known that MagazineLiteracy.org would need a Mt. Everest of magazines and comics to fill the need. Thanks to generous supplies from consumers and publishers, we are climbing that mountain – with over a million magazines and comics already.
Many hearts and hands make light work. Our project is mobilizing a human chain passing reading materials hand-to-hand – literacy crowdsourced by thousands of selfless, passionate humanitarians who supply and help move reading materials from where they are into a global literacy pipeline designed to reach any reader, anywhere on the planet. It’s an arduous, priceless labor of love – one magazine, one comic book, one box, one pallet, one reader, one village at a time – a child and mom, a job trainee, an orphan or foster child, a hungry person picking up groceries at a food pantry – gets interesting, relevant reading materials in their hands, homes, and hearts, where they matter most.
Recently, one very special woman and one very special man – a community organizer and a veteran – joined forces to orchestrate the collection and hands-on hauling of over 200,000 pounds – 100 tons of magazines – over a million issues on 190+ pallets from Highlights, National Geographic, Conde Nast, TIME Inc., Hearst, Meredith, Fun for Kidz, and others to open the largest free literacy market on Earth.
Our project has been like a flame flickering against all odds to light a torch to pass on to spark literacy fires in every village around the globe. That flame is kept burning by the passion and commitment of people like Lorraine Smith and Collin Innis who have built our Global Operations Center at the Mill One collaboration space operated by The Isles near Trenton, New Jersey.
Lorraine has carried our flame for years and years against wind and rain to bring light the darkness. The only place such a flame could survive against the elements is in her heart. We met at the food pantry she ran in Trenton, where she set up our very first literacy newsstand to feed people hungry to read. It’s an innovation that has spread to other food pantries in and outside the U.S., including a food pantry newsstand operated by the Duffy Family near Toronto, Canada. Lorraine has many important ideas about lifting people up by believing in them and building their confidence and reading skills. She is helping us to manage our operations and expand overseas with a focus on school children learning to read in Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.
Collin is a can do mobilizer – a modern-day Titan who never flinches in the face of truck after truck, 1 ton pallet after pallet of arriving magazines. Lorraine and Collin are game changers who, by their enduring passion for helping to lift people up and to create goodness in the world, fill our fledgling literacy mission with substance and hope to reach heights never before possible. They demonstrate that, when we iMAGine the change we want to see in the world, truly, we make it so.
At MagazineLiteracy.org, we are building the largest literacy market for at-risk readers in the world, fueled by a steady supply of favorite magazines and comics from consumers and publishers. This is our moonshot. Hundreds of millions of readers are waiting. We need your help finding literacy agencies; funding operations; sorting and bundling magazines and comics for delivery to readers; mobilizing your social and professional networks; and telling our stories.
Join us to turn our hill into a mountain – one magazine, one comic, one reader at a time.