Palmetto High student project provides books aplenty for childrent of migrant workers

In this digital age of learning through laptops and tablets, the paper pages of a book can often go unturned in the hands of schoolchildren.

But for needy and underserved students in Miami-Dade County, traditional books can mean the world.

When Jake McMaster, 17, started his community service project of collecting books for the children of migrant workers, he never dreamed he would get a donation of an entire library.

At first he collected books to give to children during the holidays. Then Jake, a rising senior at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, designed a drop-off box for the Village of Pinecrest Community Center. He named it “Mac’s Library” after his grandfather, who always had a paperback in his pocket.

There was a newspaper story about Jake and his project, and hundreds more books were given.

And then worlds of need came together.

After 60 years of classes and camps, Pinewood Acres School closed its doors in May 2013. The new Somerset Academy Bay at Pinewood Acres is now operating on the property at 9500 SW 97th Ave.

Pinewood Acres’ entire library of 7,913 books, plus shelving and carts, was put into storage. After reading about Jake and his book project, members of the Lones family, the owners of Pinewood Acres School, decided to donate everything.

The books, many with their Dewey Decimal System labels still affixed, would go to the children of the migrant workers too.

Throughout the years the Pinewood Acres library had grown quite large with gifts of books from its students. Now the books needed new homes. And the migrant children needed books.

Jake and his friend Michael Elmaleh, also of Palmetto, had joined forces in the school halls last year as they each discussed donations.

“I overheard Jake talking about book drives,” said Michael, who has collected more than 2,000 pounds of clothing for the migrant camps. Inspired, he got involved with the massive book collection, along with Jake’s younger brother, Reed.

“It feels good. It’s nice to be able to do something,” said Jake, early one recent morning at Pinewood Acres. He was helping to load the truck that would transport everything to the Everglades, Redland, and South Dade labor camps. A group of Palmetto friends had boxed the books the day before.

They got help from Eddie Barreiro, executive director with Miami-Dade County Schools Title I Administration. Barreiro said starting in July, during the 2014 Summer Session, migrant students in grades K-12 will receive 10 books each from the donation.

An educator for 28 years, the last 16 years in administration, Barreiro said he knows how important a book can be.

“I was just a little Cuban refuge and I remember reading Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary,” he said while loading boxes. “It’s a beautiful thing we’re doing here today. These students can have something they can take with them. And I feel like I can be part of something.”

Ann McMaster, Jake and Reed’s mom and a guiding light behind the scene, said her boys were so happy to meet Barreiro and find his organization.

“There is an endless pit of need in Dade County,” she said. “Not many of these migrant kids can buy books at the school book fairs.”

She said Jake found assistance with the donation project through Miami-Dade School Board member, Dr. Lawrence S. Feldman, of District 9 and his chief of staff, Jackeline Fals.

“Jake has collected nearly 12,000 now if you include the Pinewood Acres library. Kind of scary that nearly 5,000 books have come out of people’s houses and recycled into Title 1 programs in less than a year,” said his mom Ann McMaster. “And they are still pouring in at the community center.”

Reed McMaster, 15, will take over the project after his big brother graduates. He said the book donations have helped him form personal goals.

“I want to do good for the world. This is my first step,” Reed said.

For Judy Lones and daughter Jennifer Lones at Pinewood Acres, the donation of their library is bittersweet. The project will change so many lives for the better, Jennifer Lones said.

“We are so happy that a piece of the love and legacy of 60 years of Pinewood Acres is now in good hands,” she said.

There are books by Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, a lot of original ‘American Girl’ books, “Clifford the Big Red Dog” books, Archie Comics in chapter books, biographies of all the U.S. presidents, and so much more. Now a new generation of readers will enjoy them.

Under the blooming Royal Poinciana tree at Pinewood Acres, next to the old basketball court that hosted the play of six decades of schoolchildren and campers, the truck full of library books was finally ready to go.

Its backdoor slid down with a clang.

And Judy Lones watched as her Pinewood Acres School library was driven away.

“There they go,” she said quietly, “And I’m very pleased.”