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According to the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, approximately 32 million adults in the United States are illiterate. The ability to read leads to long-term educational and economic success, and helps individuals from underprivileged backgrounds break the cycle of poverty. You can take action in support of education for all here

Six new vending machines are feeding the minds of children across New York City.

The machines, placed across the five boroughs, dispense free, age-appropriate books for children in underprivileged communities as part of the ninth-annual Soar With Reading Initiative launched by JetBlue in July.

“As New York City’s hometown airline, we’re excited to bring our Soar With Reading program home,” Icema Gibbs, director of corporate social responsibility for JetBlue, said in a press release for the program, which began in 2011.

“Over the past five years, we’ve made a tremendous impact with our book vending machine program. We can’t deny the need right in our own backyard,” Gibbs added.

The Soar With Reading program travels to a different city every summer to help exposure children to books and encourage them to read while they are out of school for the summer, allowing them to remain stimulated and prevent educational regression

“For kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, summer often marks the beginning of the infamous summer slide," Dr. Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt, said in the release. "Studies have shown that owning 25 books or more has a sizable effect on achievement, with each additional increment of books, such as 10 or more, improving achievement. This program allows children to own books and combat the knowledge loss that so often accompanies summer.”

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The vending machines will be restocked with new books every two weeks through partnerships with publishing houses such as HarperCollins, Little Bee Books, Lil’ Libros, Scholastic, Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, and Barefoot Books. The machines will cater to New York’s diverse population, offering a selection of books that include English and Spanish titles and feature characters from varying backgrounds and walks of life. 

“In Queens, we’re thrilled to welcome two free book machines that will be dispensing titles that are appropriate for all ages and reflect the incredible diversity of our borough,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said in a press release last month.

Books for adults will also be available through the vending machines in an effort to encourage parents to model positive behavior, which research has shown can contribute to a child’s educational success.

This year’s Soar With Reading ambadassor also leads by example. At just 14 years old, Marley Dias is an author and youth advocate for diverse representation in children’s literature, having founded #1000BlackGirlBooks, a campaign that collects and donates children’s books with black female protagonists to young black girls. 

Dias’ book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You — which delves into themes like youth activism, inclusion, and social justice — will be one of the many titles featured in the vending machines

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"I am thrilled to have my book included in JetBlue's Soar Reading program this year,” she said in a statement. “Being a part of this initiative offers a unique opportunity to address and promote diversity in literature. I believe all children deserve access to books and JetBlue's reading program offers a viable solution for children in need.”

Children across the US have received $3.5 million worth of books in donations from JetBlue through the program, previously implemented in cities including Detroit, Michigan; Washington, DC; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

As part of the initiative, JetBlue is also asking readers across the country to join the effort to inspire youth to pick up a book by using social media to describe a #BookDrop moment. The social media posts can include any impactful message related to reading, like sharing a book that changed a person’s perspective of the world. 

For every post, JetBlue will donate another book to the Soar With Reading program.


Defeat Poverty

These Vending Machines Offer Free Books to Children in New York City

By Gabrielle Deonath