UACED’s annual book drive to benefit K-12 children in Black Belt counties

Rachel Seale, Contributing Writer

The UA Center for Economic Development is hosting the 17th annual Books for the Black Belt book drive to benefit K-12 literacy. 

The drive is being held from Jan. 30 until Feb. 24.  

Erica Cunningham, a junior majoring in communication studies, is a branding and communications student assistant at the UACED who is working on the book drive campaign. 

Cunningham said donation bins are placed around various locations on campus, including Honors Hall, Carmichael Hall, Autherine Lucy Hall, and the Pi Beta Phi sorority house. She said people can also donate at off campus locations. 

“People can also come to our office and donate books if they can’t make it to any of the off or on campus locations,” Cunningham said.  

Cunningham said the books go to K-12 schools in 13 counties in the Black Belt that the drive is partnered with.  

The Black Belt refers to 13 counties in Alabama, originally named for the rich, fertile soil that led to the growth of cotton plantations.  

“A lot of the helpful books are SAT prep books just because a lot of students don’t have access to those, but you can donate any new or gently used books,” Cunningham said. 

Mishay Long, a senior majoring in communication studies, is also a branding and communications student assistant at the UACED who is working on the campaign. 

Long said she and Cunningham collect books from the donation bins along with student research assistants that help collect and manage the donations. 

“We go around and collect all those books and then we count and categorize them based on age or reading level,” Long said. 

Long said the books are dropped off to the schools based on the type of books they ask for. 

The book drive began in 2006 and has run every year since then, except for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Long said the book drive goal is to provide every child in the Black Belt with a book. This goal would require about 30,000 books to be donated.  

“Last year we donated over 10,000 books to over 70 schools,” Cunningham said.  

Erin Hackenmueller, branding and communications development manager at the UACED, said the project is looking for all kinds of books of high quality and in good condition to be donated. She said books that are often on school reading lists are most requested besides ACT prep books. 

Hackenmueller said the campaign hopes to improve education within the Black Belt community by providing teachers with more resources for students.  

“Education is an important resource for growing communities. Students that aren’t reading at grade level are less likely to finish high school, so reading is a really important indicator for graduation rates,” Hackenmueller said. 

Hackenmueller said the drive collected more than 16,000 books in 2017 and donations are off to a great start this year. 

“Before the book drive even started, the Tuscaloosa Public Library donated over 800 books, and we’ve gotten another couple hundred [from donation bins] since then,” Hackenmueller said. 

Amy Patton, Tuscaloosa Public Library deputy director, said in an email statement that the TPL will donate about 2,000 books to the drive this year. Patton said the TPL donates books from their weeded materials and materials that have not been sold at the Friends of the Library Bookstore. 

“I love that we have found a great partnership with tThe University of Alabama’s Center for Economic Development. The Alabama Black Belt program has been successful for many years and every book that we can pass on and share has the potential to impact so many students,” Patton said.  

Hackenmueller said the book drive started as an extension of former governor Bob Riley’s Black Belt action commission. This served as an education subcommittee. 

“Nisa Miranda, our executive director, spearheaded the project when it began,” Hackenmueller said. 

Long said the book drive also accepts monetary donations, which allow them to buy new ACT and SAT prep books. She said checks can be made out to The University of Alabama and mailed to the UACED office. 

Contact Erin Hackenmueller at 205-348-7058 or [email protected] for more information.