Community Voices

Miami Beach teen collects thousands of books for homeless shelter readers

From left, Jon Tandy, Chapman Partnership employee Ben Johnson and Harrison Tandy celebrate another delivery of books for the homeless.
From left, Jon Tandy, Chapman Partnership employee Ben Johnson and Harrison Tandy celebrate another delivery of books for the homeless. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

For five years, student Harrison Tandy of Miami Beach has found new homes for old books. At first he simply wanted to share what he had on his own shelves. But what he discovered was that many people in our community don’t have access to a single book.

So he started The Phoenix Reading Project and through it Harry has collected thousands of books for people staying at Chapman Partnership Miami homeless shelters.

“I have seen children who are so excited when we do the giveaways,” he said in email. “The only way to describe it is by saying it looks like the first moments in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room, but the children are pouncing on books instead of marshmallow fluff.”

Harry, 17 and a senior at Ransom Everglades School, said there is a book drought.

“I started the project originally because I wanted to share books with other people and I found out that other people did not even have access to books. I realized that the books I had stockpiled at home could be useful not just to my siblings but to other children as well,” he said.

His grandmother, Elsie Howard, said Harry created The Phoenix Reading Project because “he believes that everyone deserves to own a special book, and he loves books and reading himself.”

Throughout the year, Harry visits libraries to pick up deaccessioned books and loads them up, his grandmother said. And at the Temple Beth Sholom Mitzvah Day, the entire congregation donates books.

“I am very lucky to be in an environment where books have always been prized and also easily available,” Harry said. “The easy access I have had to books from proximity to a library, and from my parents’ collections, has been a very good thing for me, so for the last five years I’ve worked to share my community’s book collections with those who live in communities that are book deserts.”

A typical delivery is usually six boxes of books, he said. Recently, he collected 11 full boxes and one-quarter box along with nine backpacks for the children donated by his family and friends.

The collections are usually placed in a storage area at Chapman Partnership “to wait for them to tell us the children's schedules are clear enough for a giveaway to commence,” Harry said.

He added that he “has been working to refine the project since the first giveaway where parents saw us bring in the books and asked me first for who was in charge and then asked if there were any books for their age group.”

“I had to say no to the question at the time since I had brought only until eighth grade reading level books. Next time I made sure to have books for the adults. The next request was for books in Spanish which I had a few of at the time (which was lucky),” he said.

The project has expanded to include more books for children and books for adults. And this year his younger brother Jon, 13, joined to make sure that the collection and distribution continues when Harry leaves for college.

“The project is now a 501(c)3, ensuring that anyone can support this effort,” said his proud grandmother. “One young man has made a big difference in the lives of the underserved, and he's still working.”

To schedule a pickup of books, email phoenixreadingproject@gmail.com.

CALLING ALL WRITERS

The South Florida Writers Association has two upcoming events for writers and poets. Marsha Sims will speak about book organization at the Sept. 3 meeting. The group meets the first and third Saturday of each month 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Pinecrest Library, 5835 SW 111th St.

SFWA also is hosting a Poetry Slam, 2-5 p.m., Sept. 10 at mindwarehouse, 111 NE First St. on the eighth floor.

Polish up your pieces and get involved. For more information, visit http://southfloridawritersassn.org/home. You can volunteer to help out by signing up by Sept. 1 with Brenda Roman at writerbtroman@gmail.com.

NEW NEIGHBORS

If you’re new in town or want to meet new friends, check out the New Neighbors Club of South Dade. The next luncheon and program starts at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14 at Devon’s Seafood + Steak, 11715 Sherri Lane in the Town and Country Mall in Kendall. The cost is $23 by check, and reservations are required. Write to ritafosse@yahoo.com or call 786-250-4849 no later than 6 p.m. Sept. 9.

This program will feature Kathy Sarmiento with the Alliance for Aging SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders). She will talk about “What you’ve always wanted to know about Medicare but were afraid to ask or didn’t really care about!” The New Neighbors Club of South Dade has a mission to provide friendly settings to meet new and old friends. Expand your horizons and learn about social activities and events at http://newneighborssouthdade.webs.com.

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at christinammayo@gmail.com.

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