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The Mighty Writers El Futuro site, on Ninth Street. Photo: Yesid Vargas/ AL DÍA News

Berks County Residential Center cancels book drop-off for immigrant children in detention

The nonprofit Mighty Writers planned to deliver 100 Spanish-language, age-appropriate books to children being held at Berks County Detention Center this week…

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On Monday, the Berks County Residential Center canceled a book drop-off that the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Mighty Writers had organized in order to deliver 100 Spanish-language books for reading levels K-12th grade to the roughly 20 immigrant families with children currently being held at the detention center in Leesport, Pa.

Tim Whitaker, founder and executive director of Mighty Writers, which provides long- and short-term writing classes for children at five sites throughout the city, said that the center’s administration called on Monday afternoon to cancel the drop-off that they had previously confirmed for Tuesday at 10 a.m. Whitaker said no clear explanation was offered, beyond “something about already having a library.”

Whitaker noted that Mighty Writers had been in contact with someone at the center who had said “that books in Spanish would be an enormous help.”

“We do believe that books have power, and that these children don’t have Spanish books, they don’t have books with kids that look like they do, and this would provide some comfort,” said Whitaker, adding that the organization wants to ensure that the books belong to the children themselves, not to the institutions where they are being detained. 

The nonprofit planned to deliver the books complete with bookmarks that students from the organization’s El Futuro site on Ninth Street, the majority of whom are Mexican-American, had created at a workshop last Thursday. Many of the bookmarks expressed messages of support and friendship in Spanish.

When Madeline Karp, director of Mighty Writers El Futuro, first proposed the book drive idea, Mighty Writers connected with First Book Philadelphia, a local organization that has provided more than 495,000 books to children throughout the city. First Book quickly responded to their request for support with a $3,000 grant that allowed Mighty Writers to purchase 700 Spanish-language books for children of all ages.

Mighty Writers is now working to find a way to deliver the books to children in other detention centers. Since announcing in an email blast on Tuesday afternoon that they were unable to deliver the books to the Berks County Detention Center, Whitaker said that they have been “bombarded” with requests from organizations interested in accepting the book donation. Mighty Writers administrators are now working to sort through those requests and explore ways to deliver books to children at other detention centers throughout the state and country.

The organization is also raising money to create an infrastructure for quickly and efficiently getting books to immigrant children in detention, which Whitaker said is perhaps the most important and difficult aspect of their "Books to Immigrant Children" initiative. 

“Getting the books is challenging, but not nearly as challenging as finding open doors for them,” he said.

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