By Amelia Robinson
“Personally, as a first generation student, education is something I’m very passionate about, and what got me interested in volunteering at MagazineLiteracy.org. The work being done to promote literacy in the greater Madison area is critical in the hopes of ending poverty, and I’m very fortunate to be part of it.” — Abish Kharel – UW UNICEF Club
“MagazineLiteracy.org is a national organization that rescues and recycles new and gently read magazines and comics to at-risk readers, that originate from both publishers and consumers country-wide, and are redistributed to homeless and domestic abuse shelters, schools, prisons, and other community-based locations,” explains Madison Program Director Stephanie Robinson. Madison’s office is the first large-scale community program that is active throughout each month, attracting hundreds of volunteers each year. The Madison team is among other local teams operating in cities such as Columbus, Ohio, Trenton, New Jersey, Southern Connecticut, and Toronto, Canada, and throughout the New York metro area and Long Island. The teams have delivered magazines and comics coast to coast and worldwide, to eager readers in Nicaragua, Uganda, Croatia, Jamaica, the Arctic, and beyond.
On the first Sunday of each month, Madison’s MagazineLiteracy.org office holds a sorting event, run by Robinson, to organize donations from the previous thirty days. These magazines are separated either for immediate delivery to agencies within the community, or into the office’s extensive magazine library for later distribution. Robinson shares that “we really appreciate the chance to introduce students and other community members to the value of supporting literacy, both in Madison and beyond. As our roster of participating agencies continues to grow, we increasingly need volunteer assistance with sorting magazines and assembling donations. With the recent addition of Mendota Elementary School as a partner, it’s more important than ever to put forward the best materials we can to those in need.”
Sorting events draw many students from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who are interested in volunteering either individually or as a part of university groups such as the Chancellor’s Scholars, the Morgridge Center for Public Service, the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics club, sororities and fraternities, and the UNICEF club.
Abish Kharel is the volunteer coordinator at UW’s UNICEF club and has been integrally involved with MagazineLiteracy.org since 2016, as a college freshman. Kharel connects many eager student volunteers with MagazineLiteracy.org, as well as volunteering regularly himself. When asked about his work for the literacy organization, Kharel says that “Personally, as a first generation student, education is something I’m very passionate about, and what got me interested in volunteering at MagazineLiteracy.org. The work being done to promote literacy in the greater Madison area is critical in the hopes of ending poverty, and I’m very fortunate to be part of it.”
His sentiment is echoed by other volunteers, including Madison West High School junior Abby Hoke. She remarked that her participation was meaningful because “it was unlike any volunteer experience I’d had before. Seeing how the charity worked was interesting, and meeting a local teacher visiting the office to pick up magazines for her students helped me to understand how they were going to be used in the community.”
Anna Frehner, current sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles, loved to get involved in opening packaged donations from consumers and sorting magazines into categories by topic and date, creating well-rounded selections of reading material for the centers who will receive them.
MagazineLiteracy.org was founded by social entrepreneur John Mennell, who observed the direct connection between poverty and illiteracy through his work in hunger relief. He recognized magazines as an affordable, but enormously valuable and largely untapped resource for improving literacy, and created the nonprofit to gift the reading materials we love to those who would otherwise have little access to them. He notes that magazines work particularly well, because “there are titles for every age, interest, and language. Additionally, they feature both pictures and words, and are entertaining, non-intimidating, and relevant.”
MagazineLiteracy.org notes that there are more than a million homeless students across the United States, and that children in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than more affluent peers, as young children when their minds are developing for life. Frenher says that she enjoyed her volunteer experience with MagazineLiteracy.org so much because she “really liked the mission: it’s such a good idea to help people learn with cherished recycled magazines and comics that are as good as brand-new reading materials.”
The Madison office lists partnerships with many agencies in the region, including The River Food Pantry and Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM); Community centers like the Goodman Center and the Boys and Girls Club; homeless and domestic abuse shelters such as the YWCA, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), and Porchlight, and schools and literacy programs like Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) and Read Up.