For Robert Wahoff, what he was witnessing was a mortal sin.
“I saw a perfectly good book going into a dumpster that a child somewhere could read,” he said.
That spark from the Jacksonville letter carrier led to a high moment in the Children’s Book Drive at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, now a part of Novant Health. The drive concluded earlier this month with an estimated 7,000 books donated to high-poverty schools in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.
Mr. Wahoff (pictured) arranged with his Postmaster to collect books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library that had no valid address (“Undeliverable Bulk Business Mail”) and were, to his horror, thrown away. Through his son, Mike Wahoff, a nursing coordinator in the NHRMC Emergency Department, he donated 800 new books to the Book Drive.
We’re not talking worn down books with titles from yesteryear. They were welcome, but the titles Mr. Wahoff donated – Hair Love, Sleep Train, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake – are among the most popular with young children today.
The Wahoff donation was one of many substantial and humbling ones for the drive, ranging from 2,000 books donated by Used Book Monthly, to individual bags and boxes given by employees who let go of tender books they read their children. Anna Sawyer, a public health intern in her senior year at East Carolina University, coordinated the drive, even wrangling 1,500 books from St. Mark’s Catholic Church and school, where her mother works.
“Seeing the excitement of the schools we were able to donate to made all of our work so worth it,” said Anna (pictured below). “It was heartening to see our community’s enthusiasm and willingness to donate to this book drive, and we love that we were able to share the joy of reading with these children.”
The books will benefit Snipes Elementary School, Freeman Elementary School, Dorothy B. Johnson Pre-K Center, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, Williston Middle School, and Lakeside Academy in New Hanover County, and Virginia Williamson Elementary in Brunswick County.
This benefit has already started. At D.C. Virgo, Sabrina Hill-Black, the principal, said students immediately rushed the conference room where the books were loaded, asking if they could have them.
One set of siblings loaded up on books, and later came back for more. Ms. Hill-Black later saw one of the students sitting on a stairwell, lost in one of the donated books.
Mr. Wahoff, 78, has worked 34 years as a letter carrier after retiring from the Marines. He helped raise six children and 13 grandchildren and has known the value of a good book for some time.
“I’ve seen them read and I know what it is to have a good book,” he said. “Why not share it with everybody else?”
In post offices everywhere, the Parton books – part of a worldwide program that mails books each month to children from birth until age 5 – are disposed of because of change of address, etc., and the post offices are unable to forward them. Fortunately, Mr. Wahoff interceded in Jacksonville.
Mr. Wahoff said his program started when he first took four books to a pediatric clinic in Jacksonville he said was filled with “noisy, sick kids.” He asked the director if he could drop off the books and didn’t get much enthusiasm.
“I went back to my car and got some more books and gave one to every child in the room,” he said. “I asked the director, ‘What do you hear now?’ and he said, ‘What do you mean? I don’t hear anything.’ I said ‘That’s the point.’”
Since then he has delivered books to schools, clinics and hospitals, and the entire Wahoff family has made this their cause. Mike and wife Philippe delivered the books to NHRMC, and there’s always the need to make another run. Even now, there are 400 books in the elder Mr. Wahoff’s car, as there are most days. His only rule is that kids must be allowed to take the books home.
According to national studies, in poor neighborhoods there are often only one to two books per 300 homes, and 61% of low-income children have no books. If children don’t read proficiently by third grade, the chances of them dropping out of school are four times higher.
The Wahoff book deliveries aren’t likely to stop anytime soon, and Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center – and our partner schools – may be in line for more.
“I’ll take all the books you can get me,” Mr. Wahoff said.