Liz Wilde drops off a wagon full of books to post resident Rachel Dugan while fellow book donator Erica Pitkin watches from the porch Sept. 17 in Main Post. Dugan is accepting children's book donations for the “Love of Literacy” bookdrive through Oct. 1. Photo by Lisa Sweet/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Lisa Sweet | Production Assistant

Military spouse Rachel Dugan felt heart-broken while watching the evacuation and Taliban takeover unfold in Afghanistan in August. It was in those moments that she said she wanted and needed to do something.

As Dugan suspected, there were soon donation campaigns to support the Afghan refugees, which included drives to collect and distribute necessities like diapers and toiletries, but Dugan said she decided to do some-thing different.

Liz Wilde drops off a wagon full of books to Rachel Dugan for the “Love of Literacy” bookdrive Sept. 16 in Main Post. Dugan is accepting children’s book donations through Oct. 1. Photo by Lisa Sweet/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“I felt like a book would be more like a gift than a need for children that are coming to this country,” Dugan said. “I felt it was a symbol of education and a symbol of what you can do in this country and something that was very welcoming.”

Dugan’s own affinity for books made the idea of a book drive a natural response. With help from her friend, fellow military spouse Liz Wilde, the “Love of Literacy” book drive was born. The collected books are meant to provide a greeting to displaced Afghan children.

Currently, Afghan refugees are assembling at Camp Atterbury in Indiana as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Allies Welcome. According to the DHS website, “Operation Allies Welcome supports vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan for the past two decades, as they safely resettle in the United States.”

As of Sept. 14, there were more than 6,600 refugees at Camp Atterbury, with more than 47 percent under the age of 18 and about 40 percent of those under the age of 14, said Mark Howell, the lead public affairs officer for Operation Allies Welcome at Camp Atterbury. That amounts to more than 1,200 children under the age of 14.

Children’s books are being collected at the home of post resident Rachel Dugan for the “Love of Literacy” bookdrive through Oct. 1. Photo by Lisa Sweet/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Dugan is teaming up with Kate Grafelman, children’s librarian at the Bartholomew County Public Library in Columbus, Ind., to help distribute donated books from the Fort Leavenworth/Leavenworth area.

Dugan reached out to Grafelman to discuss her plan and brainstorm ideas on ad-ministering the books.

“(Rachel) reached out to me about how we can get the books to the kids. I mentioned we are already making welcome bags and they would be a natural fit,” Grafelman said.

The welcome bags will include the books along with the library’s online resources, to include links to Mango Languages learning software to help ease the transition for non-native speakers of English.

Erica Pitkin drops off two bags of children’s books to post resident Rachel Dugan for the “Love of Literacy” book drive Sept. 17 in Main Post. New and gently used children’s books are being collected for the children of Afghan refugees currently at Camp Atterbury, Ind. Photo by Lisa Sweet/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

After the conclusion of the book drive, Dugan will deliver the donations to Grafelman.

“My dream would be to drive around and hand out books to the children, but with security so tight this is the next best thing.” Dugan said.

So far, Dugan has received more than 1,000 books and is accepting donations through Oct. 1. Book requests are for children of any age, but with a concentration on younger children’s books like picture and board books.

Drop-off points for new and gently used children’s books in Leavenworth are at Sis’ Sweets, 610 Cherokee St.; Deena Shroyer School of Dance, 521 Delaware St.; Yoga Co-op, 521 Delaware St.; and Leavenworth Public Library, 417 Spruce St. Donations can be dropped off during regular business hours; no appointments are necessary.

For more information about the book drive, e-mail Dugan at rachelgrisidugan@gmail.com.

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