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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

A book drive will benefit Sarasota's youngest children in need

Older woman looking at a children's book
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
Lauren Brownstein adds stickers to one of several hundred children’s books already donated to Children First in Sarasota. The book drive will give books to children from low-income families.

Reading is a “doorway to life,’’ even for kids under 5, a literacy champion says.

If Sheila Birnbaum has her way, every child under 5 years of age in Sarasota County will have at least one book to call their own.

A longtime champion of child literacy, the 20-year Sarasota resident is partnering with Children First, launching its inaugural “Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader” book drive.

Children First, the exclusive provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services for Sarasota County, will distribute books collected to more than 300 children in one of their programs.

"Each child is given a book to take home here at Children's First," Birnbaum said. "So it's theirs. And hopefully the parents will read to them. Reading to a child that young — infants to 5 years old — is a doorway to life."

After that, Birnbaum says, remaining books will be given to other agencies that provide services to children, including hospitals and police departments.

As of Feb. 5, 245 books had been collected, according Children First spokesman Evan Ackerman.

Woman smiling into the camera with a toy riding car in the background
Jim DeLa
Community News Collaborative
Community activist Sheila Birnbaum at Children First in Sarasota. She has organized a book drive for children from low-income families.

Birnbaum, a patient advocate in New Jersey before moving to Sarasota, has organized several programs coming to the Suncoast. As a volunteer with JFCS of the Suncoast, she spearheaded The Pajama Game, which provided new pajamas and books for young children; Sock It To Us, which provided new socks for the homeless and for children in need.

She also collaborated with Embracing Our Differences and Ringling College of Art and Design to produce a children's activity and coloring book.

In 2022, working with Aviva Senior Living, she was named National Trustee of the Year by the Association of Jewish Aging Services.

Early literacy is a passion, she says. "I'm a wife, a mother and a grandmother of five," she said. She explained books bring the world to them. "They see the bear or they see the train ... over and over, and eventually they're reading to you."

She says reading to your children is forming an important bond. "Everyone is sitting on someone's lap at some time in their life. And that's how we learn."

The Children First book drive runs until March 31. Community members can participate by delivering or mailing donations to 1723 N Orange Ave, Sarasota, FL 34234. Participation is also encouraged by making a monetary donation online to go toward the purchase of books.

Jim DeLa is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. Reach him at jdela@cncfl.org