The First United Methodist Church was on a mission to get kids reading even if it took giving away books to each and every student.
That’s exactly what church members did.
Last Thursday, the United Methodist Women hosted their ninth annual Book Give-A-Way where every child at Port St. Joe Elementary School received a new book purchased by the women’s group.
What started as a small church activity with around 100 children benefiting has grown exponentially and books were given to 615 students including those leaving kindergarten and entering the first grade.
“The most rewarding mission project our church does is right here in Gulf County,” said Donna Thompson, who is also the reading specialist at the school.
The books available covered a gamut of genres, from serious, to funny, to books about sea life and insects. Children scrambled to see what was available and carefully selected their summer reading.
Thompson held the give-a-way to coincide with the last day of the Book Buddies program where once a week, residents Phyllis Altstaetter and Martha Sanborn visit the classroom and read one-on-one with students in order to help students improve their reading skills.
The two have done so every week for 12 years.
“It gives us more than it gives them,” said Sanborn who taught home economics and English at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School for 35 years.
She’s enjoyed the results of her efforts as students become better and avid readers and has watched many succeed in life.
“The kids think we’ve read every book ever written!” said Sanborn.
The congregation memorialized Rena Huie, the former secretary of the elementary school from 1961-1971 with a piece of scripture printed on the back of each book.
When Huie passed away, her family requested that the church donate to local missions and this project was selected to receive funds donated in her memory.
Rena’s daughter-in-law, Linda Huie was on-hand to oversee the festivities and represent the family.
“It was wonderful,” said Huie. “Rena would be so pleased.”