Our Mission

Getting books into children's hands is the key to what we do. We are always looking for creative ways to inspire kids to read. In a nutshell:

1. We provide children with books they can take home and own

2. We create libraries in places where kids spend time

3. We mail books directly to kids at home

Why we do this

We started Building a Bookshelf in 2010 because these statistics about availability of books concerned us:

  1. Middle income neighborhoods have a ratio of books per child of 13 to 1;in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is ​1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children.
  2. 80% of preschool and after-school programs serving low-income populations have no age-appropriate books for their children.

Our objective is to improve these statistics by providing books to programs, partners and families that serve children in need.


We work hard to maximize the cash contributions we receive. In fact, our nonprofit designation allows to stretch dollars farther. We often can take advantage of special grant opportunities and purchase brand new, high quality books for under one dollar a piece!

We have donors who participate through their company's giving programs. And we use Paypal.me to receive donations from individual one-time supporters or those who want to make an additional donation to us outside their routine payroll deduction.

We recognize each person has unique values and priorities, and many people choose to shop on Amazon.com. Therefore, we included Building a Bookshelf as a participant in the Amazon Smile program and users can select Building a Bookshelf as the charity they choose to support through Amazon Smile.

We use donated funds to purchase new books that are distributed directly by us to children and young adults or indirectly through our partner organizations serving the needs of children. As a general rule, we require our partners to ensure that new books become the property of the child. As a result, you can feel confident that any contribution you make is going to make an impact.

Our administrative costs are less than 10% of the overall budget, in many years they run less than 5%. Because we are 100% volunteer driven, we do not have a lot of administrative costs: our website, a PO Box, stamps and some marketing materials. That means almost 100% of every dollar donated to Building a Bookshelf by our supporters goes directly to purchase books. As it should.

Our Story

Building a Bookshelf was started in 2010 by a wife and husband, Rachel and Geoff . We are a grassroots organization, and 100% volunteer-driven. We do this because we feel it is important to contribute to the community as much as possible. We know that the lack of books in low income homes is a simple problem to solve. When we started out we thought that if we personally distributed even 20 books a year we would positively impact a few lives and that would be a win.

We never imagined we would distribute over 30,000 books in our first ten years!

We're continuously amazed at the support of the community who have joined with us and support our efforts with monetary or book donations that multiply our efforts and help us realize the dream of putting books in the hands of every child.

Rachel wrote the following in 2010 when we were starting out on the journey...

It was sometime around 1994 or 1995 and there was a story on NPR about public school funding. It was about how public schools were having to cut funding for certain programs and the effect it had on the kids. The journalist was reporting from an inner-city New York school. One of the examples she used in her story was about this school’s library and the fact that there was no money in the budget to keep the books current.

She pulled a book off the shelf that was about South Africa. She opened the book and read a section that said (this is paraphrased since I can’t remember the exact quote from a decade ago) that Nelson Mandela was someone who had opposed apartheid publicly and had been convicted of treason, sentenced to death, and hanged.

This story was being broadcast at a time when Nelson Mandela was the recently elected President of South Africa and apartheid had been overthrown (or whatever it is that we did to it). I was completely flabbergasted. It was such a triumphant and inspiring moment when Mandela became president that I felt that everyone on earth should know about it. It is one of those rare moments when something so spectacularly good happens that the entire human race is lifted up.

And think of the difference in impact that the story has on an inner-city kid with the two alternate endings:

Fight against injustice and stand-up for what you believe – against all odds – and you will be hanged. OR Fight against injustice and stand up for what you believe – against all odds – and you can prevail and rise to the highest level of success.

Kids have enough negative in their lives. They don’t need false negatives too. Heck – the same goes for adults!

I vowed right then and there that ‘someday’ I would do what I could to make sure that kids have access to books. So, it has been rattling around in my brain ever since.

And then ‘someday’ finally came.

In early 2009, my husband and I faced a medical crisis that made us come to terms with ‘end of life’ decisions. We had to discuss ‘what happens if…’. It was a stressful time and a stressful process, but it really has a way of helping you come to terms with your priorities. The medical crisis has passed, and everything turned out in the best case scenario rather than the worst. It was out of my gratitude that everything had turned out OK that I realized that ‘someday’ didn’t have to be at the end of my life.

Why was I waiting for someday when I could do something about it now? What would be more perfect about someday? It seemed dumb that I would put off making an impact in people’s lives until someday since I don’t know when someday is. By definition, 2009 is someday compared to 1995 – so the time has come and I’m not going to put it off anymore.

Of course, I can’t do this alone, so I’m hoping that you will take the journey with me. Together, we will raise money to buy books—whether it's a hundred or one million—for kids who otherwise might never know the joy of owning a book. For each of us individually, the sacrifice is small. However, as a group, our impact will be (and we know has been) huge.

Building a Bookshelf improves literacy in children by providing books directly to families

and to programs & partners that serve children in need.


Will you come and speak to my civic/professional organization?

Of course! We love to talk about books, children’s literacy, and what anyone can do to make an impact. From 5-30 minutes, we’ve got a speech to fit your needs. Just get in touch with us to work out a good time.

What qualifies as 'At-risk'?

Generally, this term refers to children of low income families. The 2011 federal poverty rate is $18,530 for a family of 3 (e.g. a mom and two kids). We don’t strictly adhere to this number because we don’t feel that someone making $19,000/year can automatically afford to purchase books for their kids. 'At-risk' can also mean that the family is facing other challenges. Children in the foster system, teen moms, and children with other learning and behavior challenges might also be considered 'At-risk'.

How can I involve my child in helping with causes like Building a Bookshelf?

There are three great ways for children to get involved with Building a Bookshelf:

First, they can clean out their own bookshelf and donate their books to kids who don’t have books (suggested donation sties in the greater KC area include Children's Mercy Hospital and Crosslines). As they do, talk to your children about how children in low income neighborhoods have about 1 book for every 300 children. The books that are sitting on their shelves, no longer being read can be put to good use for these kids.

Second, they can host a virtual book drive. Simply let your friends and neighbors know about Building a Bookshelf and that you are collecting books. Pick an end-date and let them know that you need them by then. Once you’ve collected them, contact us and we will arrange a pick-up.

Third, they can raise money by having a Book-a-Thon. They set a goal to read a certain number of books in a certain time frame. Then, they get family, friends, and neighbors to sponsor them for a certain amount per book completed. At the end of the time frame, they collect the donations based on the total number of books read. The money is sent to Building a Bookshelf, and we use it to purchase new books. Your child will receive a certificate of completion.

I am a teacher. Can I request books?

Yep. We can provide books for classroom libraries, reading groups, and books for you to distribute to your students. We can work with you to provide you with specific titles, if necessary. Just drop us a line and let us know what you need.

Do you need volunteers?

We are currently looking for ambassadors. Ambassadors spread the word about Building a Bookshelf in the community. We will teach you everything there is to know about Building a Bookshelf and children's literacy. Ambassadors are also trained to be able to conduct book distributions for Building a Bookshelf. If you are interested, contact us.

Are there ways for my local business to help?

Of course! You could host a book drive with your employees and customers. You could also sponsor an event for us. We are open to ideas you may have for getting your business involved. Just contact us and we’ll be happy to talk through the details with you and your employees.