On any Friday afternoon, you can expect to find the third floor of Building 77 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard filled to the brim with volunteers, boxes, and books…lots and lots of books.
For multiple years now, the Brooklyn Book Bodega — a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing literacy and promoting childhood reading — has occupied the space, sorting out thousands of donated books that will eventually find their way to giveaways throughout the city.
The Brooklyn Book Bodega is pursuing a very particular goal: making sure that there are at least 100 books in every New York City home with kids under the age of 18. That dream might look astronomical at first glance, but to date the nonprofit has already distributed over 109,000 books.
“The research shows that kids who are read to or are surrounded by books do better in school,” said Cecilia Golombek, program and volunteer coordinator for Brooklyn Book Bodega. “So it’s a really important starting point.”
The nonprofit’s supply of books come from a variety of sources. Many are brought directly to the Brooklyn Book Bodega’s various drop-off locations, which include the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Old Stone House in Park Slope. Other donations come from partnerships with bookstores and publishing houses.
“Various bookstores do buybacks, where the customer can go purchase the book at the bookstore, but then the book is actually donated,” Golombek explained. “We also have partnerships with publishing houses and authors. If they’re clearing out their warehouses, or have overstock, or want a book to be more widely distributed, they will give us copies as well.”
The work of distributing the books is accomplished by a team of three staff members, a board of directors, and an ever-growing roster of volunteers that currently numbers in the thousands.
“Anyone over the age of 14 can volunteer, and we get a wide variety of people,” Golombek said. “We have a lot of students that are taking part in these nonprofit and advocacy courses at different universities in New York City. Over the summer, we have a huge group of high school kids coming and doing their community service hours.
“Then we have our regular volunteers who are freelancers, retirees, and other people that have a day off,” she added. “Some folks will take a half-day off in the summer or on Fridays too. People make space in their schedule for the Book Bodega, which is amazing.
This past week, the Brooklyn Book Bodega was included in the Department of Sanitation’s NYCxReuse program, a biannual event that highlights the many ways New Yorkers can extend the lifespan of various materials and items through recycling and reuse.
Volunteers from the Department of Sanitation joined other volunteers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to sort and stamp books.
For the many regular volunteers at the Brooklyn Book Bodega — Golombek included — the sheer joy that comes with sharing the gift of reading is enough to keep them coming back week after week.
“I started as a volunteer,” Golombek said. “I just love being around books, and seeing what people are publishing and getting to meet other people. It’s particularly awesome when you’re there when the kids are picking out the books themselves.
“When the kids pick out their own books from one of our tables, their face lights up and they start hugging and reading it immediately,” she continued. “There’s nothing better than that, seeing how much joy something we do can bring.”
For information about volunteering and upcoming events, visit brooklynbookbodega.org.