By Anastasia Millicker
Lifelong Middletown resident Abigail Daly grew up with books. Beginning from a young age, Daly said she was engulfed in reading and the passion grew as she continued through her education and life.
When Daly, 43, a former state deputy attorney general and lawyer with the N.J. Division of Youth and Family Services, left her job in 2001, she wanted to continue to help at-risk children.
“I had left my job to raise my kid and wanted to give something back to the kids I encountered through my work and continue to help them,” Daly said.
Daly contacted a woman who created a Bridge of Books Foundation in California in 2000 and three years later the foundation planted Jersey roots, to give children, babies through age 18, a sense of ownership of books.
The Foundation has collected and distributed more than 300,000 books for underprivileged and at-risk children throughout the state in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.
“I have always known the importance of books and reading especially for the at-risk population,” Daly said. “Bridge of Books gives students an opportunity to collect books, build their own library and have books for reference and research.”
Although some towns the foundation serves have libraries, some children are unable to access them because of limited hours or distance, Daly said.
“Libraries are usually open during the working hours and after a day of working a parent gets home from an exhausting day of work, they usually don’t want to head back out and they don’t even think about going to the library,” Daly said. “Another thing a library doesn’t give you is a book to call your own.”
Daly, who started this foundation nine years ago, said every event and letter in the past years has been a memorable moment for her.
“There was one time when another volunteer and I traveled to Camden on an early Saturday morning to a community basketball game,” Daly said. “We donated about 1,500 books that day alone. These little boys who you wouldn’t think would want anything to do with reading will walk away with bundles of books under their arms.”
Another memorable experience was creating a library for Penns Grove after their library was destroyed in Hurricane Irene early last fall.
“We donated 1,600 books to the Penns Grove Middle School,” she said. “They would not have had a summer reading program without those books.”
With a board of seven volunteers and volunteers recruited for events and donations, the foundation goes to schools and at-need communities distributing books and inviting guests to read to younger children, Daly said.
Bridge of Books has also been involved in initiatives in school on all levels, Daly said.
“We held a contest for high school students to write about why they wanted to win the Hunger Game Trilogy, why reading is important and why books are important,” Daly said. “More than 200 entries were received and ten students were awarded The Hunger Games Trilogy in hard cover and a book of each student’s choosing.”
In Monmouth County, the foundation has a close partnership with Keansburg elementary and middle schools.
In the past month, the Bridge of Books Foundation brought local author Audrey Vernick to read her book “Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?” to pre-K children in Keansburg. Afterwards the children were able to choose books to take home and others for their classrooms.
Daly said she hopes others will establish programs similar to Bridge of Books throughout the country.
“I keep all students in my mind when distributing books,” Daly said. “Even with all the books we hand out, there are still millions of children that are in need of books and millions of children who can benefit from having books.”
For more information or to donate gently used books, visit www.bridgeofbooksfoundation.org/.