With Charlottesville City Schools kids all staying home this fall, the division’s librarians plan to continue their summer Books on Bikes delivery program to children during the academic year.

But they need help. 

In order to continue the program through the fall, the volunteer school librarians who operate the group need money to buy new books.

“It is so crucial now,” said Mary Craig, a librarian at Clark Elementary School and co-founder of Books on Bikes. “To grow readers, kids need access to books. Their access has been cut off. They can’t come to the school library. Now, more than ever, kids need books in their homes.”

The group has launched a fundraiser with a goal of raising $1,000. Visit the donation page here.

The librarians hope to raise enough money to continue delivering books to children in the school system in seven low-income Charlottesville neighborhoods through at least November, Craig said.

On a normal year, the group begins delivering books the first week of summer break and continues until school resumes. Twice a week, they load up the cargo bins on their bicycles with books and popsicles then ride into one of their selected neighborhoods.

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Books on Bikes volunteers deliver books to kids in the Greenstone on Fifth apartment complex in Fifeville on Thursday.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Katie Plunkett, the librarian at Greenbrier Elementary School and a volunteer member of Books on Bikes. “The kids hear the honking of the bike’s horn when we ride into the neighborhood. It’s really exciting.”

The librarians would spread the books out, and children would grab a popsicle and pick out whichever book they wanted — to keep.

COVID-19 has changed their approach. 

Starting in March, when City Schools went all virtual in response to a spike in coronavirus cases, the librarians started delivering books again. But, this time, they left the bikes and the popsicles.

Instead, the librarians pack up bags with three age-appropriate books for each child who attends an elementary school the neighborhoods they visit and leave them by the child’s door.

“This is a little easier on our legs, but it’s not as fun,” Rebecca Flowers, a librarian at Johnson Elementary and the group’s other co-founder, said Thursday afternoon as she and a few other volunteers delivered books to kids in the Greenstone on Fifth apartment complex in Fifeville.

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Cecile Kasondwa and her little sister Charline examine their book bag delivered Thursday by the Books on Bikes team.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Still, a handful of children playing outside recognized Flowers and came bounding up to get their book bags.

“We love it,” said Cecile Kasondwa, who got a bag along with her little sister Charline. 

Cecile paused for a moment.

“I have a question,” she said, quietly holding her bag. “Do we have to return them?”

When she heard that the books were hers to keep, a shy smile spread across her face. She turned, clutching them to her chest, and ran back into her apartment.

Craig and Flowers began Books on Bikes in 2013. Their first year, they loaded up some books in a bright red wagon and rolled them into a few low-income neighborhoods to give away.

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Katie Plunkett, the librarian at Greenbrier Elementary School, prepares book bags to deliver to children Thursday.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

The group has grown in years since, as more librarians and school division teachers join to help.

This summer, the volunteers delivered thousands of books to hundreds of elementary school children.

“There are needy kids outside of these neighborhoods, too,” Flowers said Thursday, as she wheeled a trolley full of book bags through Greenstone on Fifth. “We try to reach as many children as we can get to. We can’t reach everyone.”

Aside from the fundraiser, the group also has an Amazon wish list of books and other items the group needs that people can buy and send directly to them. For more information, check out the Books on Bikes’ website and Facebook page.