Elementary students to receive free books at community cookout

TUPELO – More than 150 students at two Tupelo elementary schools will get free books thanks to the initiative of one Tupelo High School freshman.
The books will be given to parents of students at Lawndale and Parkway Elementary Schools during community cookouts this month. The first is Monday at the Boys and Girls Club in Haven Acres from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. The second is Sept. 28 at Barley Courts.
It all began three years ago when THS freshman A’lexus Roach, then a student at Lawndale, told Lawndale Principal Terry Harbin about a special business card she had. Call this number if you ever need books, A’lexus told Harbin. You’re going to need it one day. Harbin stashed the card in his Franklin Covey binder and thought nothing else of it.
The number was that of A’lexus’ cousin-in-law, Julia Witherspoon, the founder of Cops ’n Kids, which gives away books to children across the country.
Fast-forward three years. Harbin was planning this month’s community cookouts and decided he wanted to give books to the attending families for them to read to their children. He then remembered the card sitting in his binder.
So he called Witherspoon.
“I was stunned,” Witherspoon said. “I couldn’t believe after three years he was calling me from a business card he had.
“I said I’m not going to let you down, books you shall have. If A’lexus thinks you have a magic card, I had to send those books. There was no way I could not.”
Witherspoon sent Harbin four boxes totaling almost 400 books – from Hannah Montana books to Clifford, Sesame Street, Baby-sitter’s Club and Goosebumps books – and a box of beanie babies. Parkway is a kindergarten to second-grade school and Lawndale is for third- to fifth-graders.
“Everybody needs a good book to read and it keeps them out of trouble if they read books,” said A’lexus, a 15-year-old who loves to read mystery books. “It gives them something extra to do and keeps them from being bored all the time.”
Witherspoon, a retired police officer in Racine, Wis., began her organization when she realized that many low-income children didn’t have access to books. She gets her books from donations.
The first donation was 10,000 books from a warehouse that was about to shred them. Since 1997, Cops ’n Kids has given away more than 500,000 books and has branches in 70 communities throughout the world, including one in Tupelo.
But this book giveaway was all about A’lexus.
“Me being married to her cousin doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Witherspoon said. “She could have taken the card home and thrown it away. Why would a little kid give it to the principal and call it such a magic card?
“What A’lexus did is a wonderful thing and she will never know at her young age the depth of what she has done. Without her, those families would not have gotten these books.”
The donated books will be placed in cans with other prizes and given to parents. The cans will be dubbed “I Can Read.” And A’lexus will be there as the guest of honor.
“Just the gesture of her passing on that information has touched so many lives,” said Harbin, who said there are enough books for more than 135 families at the two community cookouts.
Monday’s cookout is the second community open house held this year by Tupelo’s school district. Tupelo High School had a similar event recently at Haven Acres.
THS principal Mac Curlee said there were about 25 to 30 individuals at last week’s event and he plans for more events in the future.
“We were excited about getting that kicked off and getting to meet with students and parents in their neighborhood,” Curlee said. “It was a good starting point for us.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal