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Burnside Elementary School teacher Rachel Glover colors in the graph to show the total number of books donated to date for “Operation Food for the Body Books for the Brain.” (Republican Eagle photos by John Russett)

Students, staff bolster 'Books for the Brain' at Burnside

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It started with a box and a hand-written sign.

The box sat in the teachers’ lounge at Burnside Elementary School with a sign that said “books for the food shelf.”

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Neil Lahammer, third-grade teacher at Burnside, saw an opportunity and ran with it.

Lahammer asked his class if they would be willing to donate some books to the Red Wing Area Food Shelf and within a week and a half, 250 books were waiting to be delivered.

The next year his class collected 450 books and the year after his class donated close to 675 books.

This year the project has been expanded from Lahammer’s class to all of Burnside Elementary. On the first day, Dec. 2, the school brought in 486 books, the second day total was 559, and after the first week the total number of books in the display case at Burnside was 1,876.

“The kids love it,” said Burnside Elementary teacher Rachel Glover, who has been helping Lahammer count the books and put them in the display case.

Every day after school students bring boxes of books from their classrooms to the display case and are excited to see how many books have been donated, Lahammer said.

For the students to be able to give something of their own and to learn the gift of generosity is a valuable part of this project, said Dee Bender, who is in her eighth year as a volunteer at the food shelf.

Bender has worked with Lahammer on the project since it started four years ago.

“The timing of this is really perfect,” Bender said, adding parents and grandparents who come to the food shelf this time of year are able choose a few books to give as gifts during the holidays.

Children who come in with their families are thrilled when they learn they can take a couple books home with them as well, Bender said.

“It just tears at your heart,” Lahammer said.

As a former teacher, Bender said she knows how important it is to be read to at an early age.

Lahammer agreed and said he hopes this project can help implant the importance of reading early in students’ lives.

“We’re helping out Burnside students before they even walk in the door,” he said.

Lahammer said the staff at Burnside Elementary was very responsive to the idea of bringing the project to all classrooms and there have already been discussions about ways to expand the project even further in coming years.

The potential for where the project could lead is very exciting, he said.

Anyone who would like to help is welcome to bring their gently used books to the Burnside Elementary School office, Lahammer said.

Books will be collected at Burnside Elementary for “Operation Food for the Body Books for the Brain” through Dec. 16.

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