“This will allow that these books that may be delivered to the wrong address, or to book recipients who may have moved but didn’t let us know, will still be placed into the hands of children in our community and across the state,” said Sarah Haratine, AmeriCorps VISTA with United Way of Bradley County.
United Way of Bradley County joined the free-book program in March 2005, and since then, with the assistance of the United States Postal Service, has delivered nearly 95,000 books to children up to the age of five in the area. The books are age-appropriate, and delivered at no cost to the recipient if registered for the program.
“We have worked with our local post office in the past to pick up these books and redistribute them at events promoting the Imagination Library,” Haratine said. “We have had a great working relationship with our local postal officials.”
However, the USPS made a decision that holding these books for Imagination Library officials was not consistent with its policy of undeliverable mail. The post office policy is not to separate undeliverable mail, but keep it together for a time before it is destroyed.
This policy’s effect on undelivered Imagination Library books had been discussed for many months prior to Gov. Haslam’s bill. Officials from both the USPS and Imagination Library had discussed ways of keeping the books from being shredded, but had not come up with a solution that was agreeable to both.
“We have been following the discussions, including receiving updates from the Dollywood Foundation and United Ways of Tennessee,” explained Matt Ryerson, United Way of Bradley County president and CEO. “We had been instructed to wait to see if a solution could be developed, and now that the governor has signed this bill, we hope that we have found a solution.”
The bill signed by Gov. Haslam was introduced and sponsored by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley and fellow Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson. The bill passed the House by a 93-0 vote, while the Senate approved its version 31-0.
The bill directs the U.S. Postal Service to instead donate the books to pre-kindergarten or other programs.
“With the unanimous passage of this bill, the post office has gone back to their previous method of returning these books to our Imagination Library” Haratine said. “With a minimal fee, we can continue to get these books into the hands of children needing them, or place them in areas of our county where they will be read by these children.”
One such way of getting these books into the hands of children is through book swaps at two local laundromats. The first partnership with a Laundromat is at a facility on Georgetown Road, while the Laundry Basket, a new laundromat near the intersection of Keith Street and Willow Street, joined the program a few weeks ago.
The books are also given out at area events such as the recent Healthy Kids Day at the YMCA, where parents or guardians may sign up children for the program.
“We appreciate the United States Postal Service for working with us through this bill, and thank Gov. Haslam for his decision to sign this bill into law,” Haratine said. “We know that both he and his wife, Chrissy, are big supporters of the program, and of reading to children and having them learn to read at an early age.
“We also appreciate the unanimous support from both the House and Senate, especially from our local legislators Sen. Mike Bell and Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson,” she added. “We know all three support early education for our children.”
To sign up a child for the Imagination Library, go to the United Way of Bradley County website (www.unitedwaybc.com), click on Our Partners, and then go to the Imagination Library link. Or, you may go to the Imagination Library website (www.imaginationlibrary.com) to sign up for the program. It is available to any child under the age of 5.