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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Several local organizations are teaming up for a project they hope will be a real page-turner for hundreds of Starkville and Oktibbeha County residents.

Beginning Monday and running through May 10, the “United We Read” project will be an effort aimed at helping to promote and encourage reading and literacy in the community.

The project is coordinated by the United Way of North Central Mississippi in partnership with the Starkville Public Library, Volunteer Starkville, Armstrong Middle School, the Starkville Junior Auxiliary and the Starkville School District’s Family-Centered Programs Reading to Succeed initiative.

The “United We Read” project is the second of four quarterly community outreach projects coordinated by the United Way, the first being the community-wide “United We Feed” effort to restock local food pantries during February and early March.

Other outreach projects are being planned for late summer and mid-fall, said United Way Executive Director Nikki Rives.

“The ‘United We Read’ project provides another way for the United Way to be actively involved in improving our community beyond just raising money each fall to support 15 charitable agencies,” Rives said. “With education playing such a vital role in the life of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, we wanted to sponsor a project that would not only involve students at local schools, but also encourage them and people of all ages to embrace reading as a part of life-long learning.”

The “United We Read” project will involve the following:

A book drive from April 29 to May 3 with students at Armstrong Middle School and Emerson Family School — Each participating school will have designated drop points on school property for students and their parents to bring used fiction or nonfiction books they no longer want or need.

A community book drive from April 29 to May 10 — Designated drop points will be set around the community for members of the public donate new or used fiction or nonfiction books. Drop points include Cadence Bank branches on University Drive and Highway 12, M&F Bank branches on University Drive and Highway 12, Emerson Family School on South Louisville Street and the United Way office on the third floor of the Regions Bank building on University Drive at South Jackson Street.

Once collected, volunteers will take the books to a clearinghouse location, sort them according to reading level/genre and prepared for redistribution.

The books will be distributed in a “book giveaway” to be held at the Starkville Public Library from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 18. Dubbed “The Great Starkville Book Swap,” the book giveaway event will provide children, youth and adults an opportunity to select books they can read during the summer months. The event will also provide an opportunity for the library staff to distribute information about reading and other programs offered for children, teenagers and adults. Books not taken in the book giveaway will be donated to the Friends of the Public Library.

“We really view this project as a win-win for the schools, library and the other participating organizations,” said Rives. “Like the ‘United We Feed’ project earlier this year, ‘United We Read’ will involve people across the community in an effort to encourage people to read.”

The United Way has already gotten a jump start on the book drive thanks to two local organizations’ donation of more than 25 grocery sacks full and a one large box of books within the last two weeks, said Brian Hawkins, United Way public relations and outreach coordinator.

“What we’ve already collected definitely provides a foundation for the ‘United We Read’ project to succeed. As people learn more about this project, it is our hope they will not only donate books to the book drive, but also volunteer in helping us sort them and prepare for ‘The Great Starkville Book Swap’ on May 18,” Hawkins said.

For more information about the “United We Read” project or to volunteer, call the United Way offices at (662) 323-3830 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday or send e-mail to Rives at nrrives@gmail.com or Hawkins at hawk1_msu@yahoo.com. Messages left at the United Way office will be returned as soon as possible.

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