Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, January 1, 1999

A book drive proving
community cares

AFTER reading this column, carefully clip it out. Store it in a safe place. Then, please reread it if there is ever any doubt that the people of Hawaii care about public schools, children, literacy or the folks on the Waianae coast.

In late November, the members of Makaha Elementary's student council held a brainstorming session. What Christmas present could the campus leaders give each youngster -- in grades kindergarten to sixth -- before the winter break?

They thought of goodie bags, pencils and bookmarks, and even considered making individual activity books. But realizing the value of reading, they decided to think big: With less than a month left in the '98 school year, they would give a new or almost-new book to every classmate at Makaha. All 725 of them.

Tami Gandt, science resource teacher and council adviser, gulped at the suggestion. Seven hundred books? In three weeks? While the 33-year-old Kapolei resident commended the two dozen student leaders for their optimism, she dreaded the disappointment if they couldn't reach their goal.

Undaunted, the keiki got to work -- although surreptitiously, because they wanted it to be a yuletide surprise. The plan was to hide the books in the back of Gandt's classroom until they could be handed out on Dec. 18.

The student council members sent solicitation letters to area businesses. A local newspaper found out and wrote a little story on the ambitious book drive. Debbie Sokei, assignments editor at KGMB-9 News, read the article and dispatched Jonathan Masaki to report on the project.

Slowly, the call for books and word of the worthy project began to spread. Individuals and businesses, including some members of the Hawaii Book Publishers Association, sent in tomes or money to purchase them.

Other schools offered a hand as well. Mililani Mauka Elementary held a one-day drive on its campus, collected 1,500 books and donated them all to Makaha. Punahou Elementary organized a similar event, resulting in 500 books for the school on the other side of the island.

Then Craig and Marjorie Walsh, owners of The Poi Company, joined in the merriment. After seeing the KGMB story, and wanting to thank their many customers in Waianae, they went on a $1,000 shopping spree at Border's and Native Books & Things. On the last week of the drive, the Walshes arrived at Makaha Elementary with close to 200 brand-new books on everything from dinosaurs to trains to Hawaiian legends.

The student leaders and Gandt marveled at the gargantuan pile now ready for distribution. They called in adult volunteers to help wrap and deliver the packages to each classroom. At the end of Friday, Dec. 18, each Makaha Elementary student went home for the holidays with not one book but two!

That's because the student council drive -- with a seemingly impossible goal of collecting 700 titles in three weeks -- resulted in an amazing amassment of 3,000 books.

THE next time a public school advocate in Hawaii needs some inspiration, whip out this column. Remember how Makaha Elementary collected so many volumes that each of its 725 students will get another book to take home before spring break, and how the remainder will stock classroom libraries or be donated to other kids in the community.

Remember how, thanks to many caring people and enterprises, the students of Makaha have learned that the real magic of books sometimes starts with the book drive.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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