TRAVERSE CITY — Kara Murphy Gregory emphasizes three words: play, write and read.

The three concepts can empower a child’s world — no electricity required. In fact, the words powered her own movement to start a nonprofit to build up the libraries of children in poverty, to power their minds, give them something to play with and perhaps power their future.

“Literacy is supported best by strong language, and strong language comes through play, writing and reading,” Gregory said. “We want to increase the amount of literacy kids experience and the amount of books they own.”

Gregory started PoWeR! Book Bags in March 2016. Volunteers collect new and gently used books, sew handmade book bags and fill the with books, puppets, crayons and writing booklets.

Bags are delivered to eight local food pantries and other organizations, including Leelanau Christian Neighbors and the Salvation Army. Kids can choose their own items any time they visit. Gregory said she hopes to add more locations soon.

They also sent 2,000 books in a Hands Extended Loving People truck to three elementary schools in Texas that were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, she said.

The project has had success so far, and the bags come in handy in waiting rooms of service agencies that help low income families.

Kids and adults are excited and reading to each other while they wait, Gregory said.

“Children really love receiving the home-made bags,” she said. “They carefully select them and love writing their name on them. It’s making the child feel good and that someone thought of them.”

But it’s not a sole pursuit.

Though many books are donated, Gregory said they purchase many others from Blue Vase Book Exchange, a local business that sells used texts for $1 each. When she mentioned her work with PoWeR! Book Bags, Blue Vase Owner Randy Kaastra decided to help by cutting their sale prices.

“Kara does help us to recycle through our materials and get fresh materials out on the shelves,” Kaastra said. “It makes it so much more rewarding to know we’re helping out a group that’s not for profit.”

Blue Vase Book Sales Manager Victoria Pearson added that assisting PoWeR! Book Bags get books into the hands of kids who might not obtain them otherwise.

“I think literacy is really important,” Pearson said. “Especially with the impact of technology now, a lot of kids aren’t reading as much. We really love being a part of it, being able to help give them access to good quality books.”

Volunteers also play an important role, as the group hosts work bees at 10 a.m. on the third Friday of each month at Bayside Coffee and Tea in Suttons Bay.

Izzy Beckwith, a St. Francis High School sophomore, said she first learned about PoWeR! Book Bags from her mom, who works with the nonprofit.

Beckwith gathered a group of friends to clean and organize books a couple weeks ago. This was her first time volunteering with the nonprofit.

“It was really fun,” she said. “We were all reminiscing about all the children’s books we’ve read.”

Beckwith said she chose to participate because writing and reading are important in her life.

“I value education,” she said. “I wanted to give other kids the same opportunity that I had growing up.”

Beckwith and her friends handled the books that were sent to Texas. Beckwith said she enjoyed contributing to this effort and is excited to volunteer with the organization in the future.

Gregory said they always welcome volunteers to clean books, sew and fill bags, assemble writing booklets and shop for books at Blue Vase Book Exchange.

“The reason it works is because the community cares about kids and wants good things for children,” Gregory said. “We want everyone to feel like they’re part of it.”

Contact with questions or to get involved.

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