When Chris Roe and Jonathan Shotwell
opened Books & Mortar
in East Hills this past fall, they knew they wanted their passion for books, reading and literacy to translate to support for the inclusive, empathetic and caring community that surrounded them.
So, when many of their customers would relay their fears about the incoming administration in the days leading up to the presidential inauguration, Roe and Shotwell began to think: what could they do to showcase, and lend hands to, a community that thinks globally and acts locally? In the face of a divided nation, what could they do to continue the unity sewn by so many in their neighborhood and city?
To answer these questions, they looked to their neighbor: Congress Elementary
Roe and Shotwell have just announced
that they are partnering with Congress to create a fund that will provide books for every student in March, books for teachers and school workers, and other financial support for a wide range of literacy opportunities.
“We were getting people all day who are very down about the climate of the country and the administration,” Roe says. “We thought, ‘We should be promoting the little things that we
can do.’ We felt helpless, but there are so many things that keep us going forward in our community. Congress is in the backyard of the store, and we’re both huge public school advocates.”
Essentially, Books & Mortar will be partnering with Congress “for forever,” Roe says, explaining that the fund is meant to support the elementary school with any of its literacy programs and goals. In the coming months, the fund will pay for books -- chosen by the teachers -- for the entire student body, and, come May, every fifth grade student will get to go to the store and select a book for free. Additionally, the fund will provide books for the teachers, and the shop will keep educators’ book dream lists on file, allowing customers to purchase, at a discounted price, books that the teachers want.
“At the most rudimentary level, this is about making a value statement and saying, ‘These children and this school have a huge amount of value in this community,” Roe says. “It’s really just about putting out there that the school matters. It’s as simple as people coming to the store and realizing there’s a really great school resource in this community.”
A big component to this partnership is an emphasis on it being just that: a partnership.
“We really want this to be a mutual relationship; we’re giving to Congress, but Congress already gives so much to the community,” Roe says. “Congress is putting out all these children, teachers and families that are awesome assets to this community.”
And, Roe says, they’re looking forward to seeing how their work with Congress, and the community at large, continues to grow.
“When we started [Books & Mortar], we always wanted to be part of the community,” he says. “This is the first step; we’re really excited about this. This is a tangible way to respond to the state of the union.”
To support the Congress Elementary literacy fund, you can make a donation of any amount at the store, located at 955 Cherry St. SE. When you donate, you can put your name and a thoughtful message on a recycled paper heart that Books & Mortar are using to fill the shop's windows. On March 1, there will be an all-day event to kick off March Is Reading Month, and the store will be having special discounts for those who donate to the fund that day.
For further information, email Books & Mortar at [email protected], call 616-214-8233, visit its website, and follow it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.