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Hawaii wins 50,000 free books in online race


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POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hawaii residents submitted the highest number of online votes to win 50,000 free books for needy children in the national “;First Book”; contest.

“;It was because of community support; it was overwhelming how many people and groups supported it,”; said Cindy Morita, chairwoman of First Book-Oahu. Her board of directors learned the results late last week after voting closed at 6 p.m. Hawaii time Wednesday.

“;We attribute (the win) to the Hawaii voter effect, like when Hawaii voted for Jasmine Trias in 'American Idol,'”; she added, referring to the teen singer reaching the finals of the television show in 2004. “;We come out in force. Once that started, that was it.”;

Morita credited the extensive use of Facebook and Twitter, where First Book publicized the third annual contest for the first time this year. The voting also went viral through e-mail when friends and co-workers urged each other to vote once a day on booksforkids.firstbook.org.

Hawaii shot up from 45th place to first in the last two weeks of the contest, which began Aug. 10, she said.

“;It was very exciting. ... Even the national office was really excited about Hawaii's response,”; she said.

Morita did not know by how many votes Hawaii beat second-place winner North Carolina. She has not yet been notified when Hawaii will receive the books, which are designated for nonprofit groups serving low-income children, schools receiving Title I federal aid and military families.

Byrde Cestare, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Library of Hawaii, said, “;It's fabulous any time people are interested in books and literacy. It's incredible for Hawaii. ... People were so excited, saying, 'We're No. 1! We're in first place!' And then, 'Let's make sure we stay in first place.' It's taken on a life of its own.”;

Cestare said the Friends would love to get the books for the Hawaii State Public Library System or work with nonprofit agencies to “;make sure the books get into the right hands and go where there are the greatest needs.”;

She said the system suffered a $6 million cut to its $30 million overall budget this year. One of the first things to go was money for new books. “;We're in dire straits.”;

Washington, D.C.-based First Book is a nonprofit group that has delivered more than 65 million books to children in need across the United States and Canada over two decades, according to its Web site.