Books for Bedtime

Debbie Briner
Meagan Warren started her nonprofit organization when she was 11.

Reading bedtime stories is a ritual as old as families. Meagan Warren wants to ensure children in need don't miss out on that treasured tradition. Think of her as the Book Fairy.

In the two-and a-half years since the eighth-grader began her Books for Bedtime project, she has donated more than 27,000 volumes to disadvantaged children and families.

The 13-year-old Bexley Middle School student's passion for the written word—she started reading at age 2½— inspired her philanthropic project. “I've always loved to read. I love books,” she said.

In August 2014, while visiting her grandparents on Mackinac Island, Michigan, Meagan was wrangling with her mom, Shannon, for more time to read before bed when an upsetting thought occurred to her. “It dawned on me what it would be like to not have any time or books to read,” she recalled.

Right then and there, Meagan began planning with her mom and grandparents to start Books for Bedtime and to register it as a nonprofit organization. She developed a logo and brochure and the intended mission: “getting books into the hands of children who need them.”

To get things rolling, Meagan said she set what she viewed as a reasonable goal of collecting 500 gently used books by the end of 2014 to distribute to homeless shelters, schools and agencies that help families in need.

But fueled by friends' and neighbors' donations and word of mouth, Meagan far surpassed that, with 5,000 books donated heading into 2015. And they just keep coming. “We'll come home and there will be boxes of books on our front steps,” she said.

Finding new homes for the books was more difficult. In 2014, she gave away about 150 at two locations as she continued to search for ways to get them into readers' hands. As word got out, however, her distribution grew significantly. She gave away about 6,000 books in 2015, followed by an astounding 21,000 in 2016.

Driving Donations

Books for Bedtime encourages organizations and schools to hold their own book drives to benefit the nonprofit. It also joined VolunteerMatch, which links people willing to donate their time with a cause. The Warrens said that led to companies such as The Limited and Morgan Stanley sponsoring book drives. “It was really exciting the first time. I got to tour The Limited facility,” she said.

Meagan spends multiple hours each week on Books for Bedtime. She and her mom pick up donations and deliver books to schools and other places where they're needed. “Meagan tries to go into each school and talk about Books for Bedtime,” said Warren, who herself is a kindergarten teacher in Columbus City Schools. “She wants to help encourage them to start something like this on a smaller scale.”

When they drop off donated books at Neighborhood Services Inc. in the Ohio State University area, the books are snapped up quickly, said administrative assistant Aimee Hahm. The agency has a food pantry and also assists with other social services.

Its waiting room is usually full, Hahm said, so it's nice when children and adults can spend the time reading. About 40 to 50 volumes weekly go home with families, she added, “from picture books to novels. (Meagan) brings in boxes and boxes of books. It's been incredibly helpful for us.”

Before the books are given away, Meagan recruits and works with volunteers to review their condition and sort and stamp them according to grade level, from prekindergarten through high school. Friends, students from Bexley and other schools, a Hilliard Girl Scouts troop and a family with seven children are among the regular helpers.

The now-sizable operation outgrew the Warrens' basement and also occupies part of their garage, where stacks of books fill a shelving system.

Making a Difference

Warren is proud of her daughter's devotion to Books for Bedtime. “I think it's fantastic that it's really hands-on for her,” she said.

Along the way, Meagan has developed presentation and public speaking skills through talking to students, local organizations and businesses about her nonprofit.

She also has earned a bit of celebrity, as well as several local, state and regional awards for her literary cause, including a 2016 Jefferson Award. The awards, which were created nationally in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Sen. Robert Taft Jr. of Ohio, were presented by WBNS-10TV, Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services and Lifeline of Ohio to recognize individuals who give back to their communities.

In public, people have recognized Meagan as “the book girl,” she said. A Facebook Stories crew spent two days filming her to share the Books for Bedtime mission, and she was interviewed about her project for a story in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Books are obviously her passion, but Meagan said she also likes playing field hockey and enjoys a high school Latin course she's taking. Her favorite sports teams are the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Cleveland Browns. She was invited to serve as a coin-toss captain at a Browns-Titans game in September 2015 after attending a Browns scrimmage at Ohio Stadium and speaking with people at a volunteer booth about Books for Bedtime.

Her next big project is set for spring. She and her mom are planning a Book Bash for May 2 at Maryland Elementary School, which Meagan attended. The event will celebrate books and feature food trucks and readings by authors, including Meagan's favorite, Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Meagan said she intends to keep running Books for Bedtime until she leaves for college. She hopes to attend Princeton University, then Harvard Law School to become a patent attorney.

Officials at agencies such as Neighborhood Services, who see how much the program is valued by book recipients, hope the effort will continue. It's a good complement to her agency's role as a food pantry, Hahm said. “We're not only feeding the hungry, but we're feeding hungry minds.”