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The gift of reading for Christmas

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”—Frederick Douglass

The way Joe Bedard tells it, he was in the woods several years ago when a vision of Jesus appeared in his mind. “What am I to do?” Bedard asked.

“The answer came back, ‘Help children,’” Bedard said.

“But how?” he asked. “’People will come into your life,’” said the voice to Bedard.

Bedard soon got involved in book drives, a commitment that continued to grow. Today, as the chairperson of the Capital Region Literacy Council in Harrisburg, Pa., he donated 750 new books to help the Salvation Army’s Harrisburg Capital City Region with its 2020 Christmas distribution.

The donation provided books for all age groups—newborns to age 17. The Capital Region Literacy Council, which serves southcentral Pennsylvania, has distributed almost 550,000 books since 2004.

Bedard said the council raises money, identifies great titles at discounted prices, and then gets books into the hands of children. About a decade ago, the group began focusing on early education.

“The Salvation Army is one of the established service organizations in the region and has a reach that impacts a lot of families,” he said. “So anytime there is someone who would be able to get the books to kids, our intent is to always say yes.”

The council’s donation to The Salvation Army included several copies of James Dean’s Pete the Cat, a book Bedard called the “Dr. Seuss of today.”

“They’re like gold in the children’s literacy realm,” he said.

Bedard said his goal is to see kids reading and learning as early as possible so they will be ready for school. He recognizes that with technology and other things vying for our attention, parents reading to their children is a lost art.


The real issue

“The issue is education,” he said. “The answers for society, spirituality aside, are family and education. If we do things to help generate the early growth of children’s brains, they’ll be way ahead.

“That means the grassroots organizations, like The Salvation Army, are things we suggest people support—and you have to do it in your own community. I don’t call them non-profits. I call them community service organizations. We are profiting a community.”

This year, the Salvation Army’s Harrisburg Capital City Region anticipates helping about 1,500 families, including 4,000 children with Christmas toys, clothing, and food. The Christmas distribution was done through four contact-less, drive-thru events.

“While providing the gifts and food vouchers, we also offer a Bible, some candy, and a Christmas card with information about additional programs to every client and family,” said Kathy Anderson-Martin, director of resource development for The Salvation Army. “Hundreds of volunteers and community donors make this happen.”

The Salvation Army also provided more than 2,500 gift bags to senior citizens in 17 local nursing facilities and senior housing complexes. Most of the items were donated by local businesses and packed by volunteers.

“Many seniors are isolated and lonely, so a bag with Christmas wishes, slipper socks, lotion, candy, activity books, and other items lets them know someone is thinking of them and caring about them,” Anderson-Martin said.

by Robert Mitchell