Debbie Beck created a book swap for her kids’ school years ago when her two kids were only in kindergarten and first grade. “We knew there were children who didn’t have books and we knew there were books that were being thrown away because we rescued them from the dumpster behind the library.” The program ended up lasting 11 years. She helped hundreds of books get into children’s eager hands during that time.
When Debbie and her daughter traveled to Brazil, they saw a Volkswagen filled with books. “I grabbed my daughter’s arm and said ‘I know what I’m doing as soon as I get home.’” She and her daughter spent the remainder of their time in Brazil figuring out the next steps and deciding on the name of their organization. They settled on The Free Book Buggie. The simple name was created to state how they help families overcome financial and transportation barriers to help achieve higher literacy rates and children’s interest in reading. Within a week and a half of getting home, she registered her idea with Minnesota.
“I had a minivan and I had a garage and I went to two garage sales,” Debbie continued, “We pretty much just hit the ground running…our board was made up of our daughters and a couple of their friends.” She put a large magnet on her minivan and filled it with books. They kept and sorted books in their own garage, but then quickly outgrew it and had to use a friend’s garage as well. The first year, they gave out 20,000 books. They then grew large enough to need to rent an outdoor storage unit where volunteers had to work through both heat and cold to sort books. Finally, two years ago, they moved to a classroom in Burnsville. This strategic connection links students who need volunteer hours while helping some students become more interested in books. “I had a teacher come to me and say ‘I’ve never seen her interested in books before’”, Debbie said, discussing how some student volunteers started hunting for books for themselves while sorting books for other children and young adults.
As of August 1st, 2023, The Free Book Buggie has given out over 347,000 books. Currently, The Free Book Buggie has over 350 partnerships that consists of communities, schools, police departments, food distributions, and nonprofits. This nonprofit works so well because it provides students with both access and choice of books. It is one of the few nonprofits in the area that provides books for people from birth through high school. Debbie fervently believes that a person can learn to love to read at any age. “A lot of students don’t even know you can read a book for fun.”, Debbie said when discussing high schoolers who finally discovered a book they can read just for fun.
Debbie emphasized that anyone can help. “I did this on my own, but this is something you can do on your own too. You can take some of your old books and put them out in a little free library. It doesn’t cost any money; it doesn’t take a lot of skills to do it… It takes all of us working together to create change”, she said. She purposefully researched book deserts in Minnesota and said we still have a lot of places where people do not have access to books. She is also constantly looking for volunteers and is on the lookout for a second van. “My legs aren’t quite long enough. I’m only five feet tall,” Debbie joked about being able to drive two cars at once. If you are interested in volunteering with The Free Book Buggie or have access to a donatable car, please go to their website at https://www.thefreebookbuggie.org/.