Bekah S. McNeel

It’s hard to imagine children who don’t experience the rich pleasure of bedtime reading with their parents. Yet millions of underprivileged Texas children reach school age without ever hearing fairy tales and other children’s classics read aloud or being introduced at an early age to a life of reading.

Over the last two years, Read 3, H-E-B’s literacy program, has distributed more than two million books to young readers in the state. Between now and Oct. 1, H-E-B and Read 3 are aiming to add another one million books to the total. H-E-B has turned the current Read 3 effort into a series of regional competitions with shoppers, schools and stores.

Earlier this month, H-E-B kicked off a “Texas-sized book drive” in its stores, inviting both customers and area schools to help the grocery company add one million more books to the program by Oct. 1.

Shoppers can pick up an inexpensive title at their local H-E-B, pay for it with their groceries, and drop it off right there at the store. You’ll be buying a child who can’t afford a good book an experience that could change a life. Shoppers can deposit new or gently used books from home in the in-store bins. While the books are coming in, H-E-B is simultaneously distributing books as part of their Combo Locos and Meal Deals.

Schools, meanwhile, are competing regionally to collect the most books and win bragging rights as well as $1,000 for a campus literacy initiative. The winning homeroom (remember homeroom?) gets a windfall of H-E-B school supplies and an H-E-Buddy Lunch Celebration. Schools can find the entry form online at heb.com/read3.

That brings us to cupcakes. While you may not necessarily need another good reason to be a fan of the personal-sized pastries, H-E-B is giving you one. The same regional spirit has spread to in-store baking teams that have been challenged to design and bake cupcakes inspired by classic children’s books.

How bakers will turn Maurice Sendak’s, “The Wild Things” or Lewis Carroll’s, “Alice in Wonderland” into edible treats should prove interesting. Locally, H-E-B shoppers who want to sample the competing teams’ entries can drop by the H-E-B at 8503 NW Military Hwy. this Sunday, 1-3 p.m. Shoppers are welcome to send photos of their favorite concoctions to the Rivard Report at hello@rivardreport.com, or tag us via Twitter to @rivardreport and Instagram @rivardreport.

H-E-B President and COO Craig Boyan reads to children to kick off the two week book drive.
H-E-B President and COO Craig Boyan reads to children at the Deco H-E-B on Fredericksburg Road to kick off the book drive. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.

Read 3 is H-E-B’s earnest effort to move the needle on one of San Antonio’s biggest challenges: literacy, a challenge usually met or missed in early childhood.

“It is absolutely critical that parents introduce children to letters and numbers before they get to school,” said Kate Rogers, H-E-B Vice President of Partner Communication and Engagement. “In Texas, an estimated one in four children is not read to regularly, one of the worst rates in the nation. At H-E-B, we want to turn that statistic around.” 

It’s a citywide challenge that extends well beyond children’s bedtimes.

Studies link early childhood learning and literacy to success later in life. Children who fall behind early are more likely to drop out of high school.  Conversely, a child who can read and explore independently in his or her areas of interest is likely to develop the curiosity and vocabulary to pursue an advanced education and see learning as a lifelong experience well beyond the classroom.

There is a direct link between poverty and illiteracy levels. That’s why H-E-B has established in-store Literacy Centers stocked with books in 14 stores in different underserved areas of the state, each designed to serve as a community gathering place, a safe place for families with children to access free books and enjoy the occasional visiting story character or children’s book author.

Read 3 store signage proclaims, “Read 3 times per week.” H-E-B is partnering with schools and universities to provide family literacy and nutrition workshops that prepare 3 and 4-year-olds and their parents for kindergarten. To date, those workshops have served 1,815 families in Brownsville, San Antonio, San Marcos, Waco, Harlingen and Laredo, with plans to expand to Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston and Uvalde this school year.

“We need to do everything we can to make low-cost or free books available across the state,” Rogers said.

H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt address the audience at the 2013 Excellence in Education Awards in Austin, May 3. Photo courtesy of H-E-B.
H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt address the audience at the 2013 Excellence in Education Awards in Austin, May 3. Photo courtesy of H-E-B. Credit: Photo courtesy of H-E-B

The Read 3 campaign is the brainchild of H-E-B CEO and Chairman Charles Butt, who has made himself the most prominent advocate and funder of public education initiatives in the state. Those efforts range from bringing Teach for America to San Antonio to the creation of  H-E-B’s annual Excellence in Education Awards, the state’s largest monetary awards program for schools, administrators and teachers. Butt also has contributed significant funding and support to statewide education initiatives and local school district improvements through entities like the San Antonio Independent School District Foundation.

The teacher, principal, or school you cherish can’t win an Excellence in Education Award unless you or someone else nominates them by filling out a form at www.heb.com.

There are other coming events on the calendar that will connect kids with books. Those include Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2 and Dia de los Niños on April 30. A Read 3 summer reading program challenges kids to read 10 books before school starts up again.

So bring a book to drop in the box when you swing by the Bake-Off this Sunday, or buy one in-store at a 30% discount this weekend. It will make you feel good, and it will give a child the gift of a good story.

 

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

Full disclosure: H-E-B is a Rivard Report sponsor and advertiser. Stories are produced independently.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.