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Book queen feeds young minds at the food bank

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Whenever Mount Si senior Malia Arenth volunteered at a local food bank, she would often see

parents come in with their youngsters in tow. During those brief visits Arenth

realized then that those children needed more than food in their tummies _

they needed resources to feed their minds.

Since March 1999, Arenth has collected and distributed more than

1,000 books to children in the Valley as part of her Feed the Kids Book Drive.

The project grew from her need to fulfill 15 hours of community service for

the Mount Si High Honor Society. But the senior knew she wanted to do

more than just office work to fulfill the requirement.

"I wanted to do something worthwhile," Arenth said. "And I'm the

biggest bookworm you'll ever meet and my parents read to me from the time

I was born."

She wanted to share her love for reading with other children

whose parents might not be able to afford to buy any books. So she partnered

with Mount Si Helping Hands, a community-run food bank at the North

Bend Community Church, and hands out books to struggling families at

least once a month.

But Arenth wasn't sure if her pilot program would soar or crash and

burn. She was afraid that the parents might think of the book drive as an

intrusion on their mission to feed their families.

"At first I felt like it might seem condescending because they come

in there for food," she said. "And I was afraid that people would find it rude."

But, the children's bright faces tell a different story.

"Usually the books are new-ish and the kids just sit down and

start reading. Or, they might be shy and hide behind their parents and hold

on tight to the book," Arenth said.

"It's really cool."

Ken McCarty, the Mount Si Helping Hands coordinator, has also

seen the children's reaction when they receive the unexpected gift.

"These children very seldom get extra things so they're pleased

and very happy," he said. "And just getting something means a lot to them."

But these children are receiving much more than a few paper

pages between cardboard covers, McCarty said. The more important gift they

get is the love for reading.

"It's particularly a good program because it encourages the young

kids to read," he said. "The children

are from poor families who might not have books around the house."

"So the younger ones are more ready for school and it encourages

the older ones to read," McCarty added.

Feed the Kids Book Drive aims to supply books for all ages — from

the huge chunky cardboard books for toddlers all the way through the

"chapter books" for young adults. Book

donations can be dropped off at Mount Si High, St. Clare Episcopal Church

in Snoqualmie or at Fall City Farms.

And though Arenth will be ending her senior year at Mount Si

High in the next several weeks, the Colorado-bound college student hopes

that the book drive will continue.

"We have enough people to help so hopefully it'll keep going,"

Arenth said. "It's not dependent on my being around, but we need people who

are willing to hand out books."

Mount Si Helping Hands is open on Wednesdays, from 9:30

a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. For more information about Feed

the Kids Book Drive, call (425) 222-7930. For more information about the

food bank, call (425) 888-0096. Volunteers and donations are needed for

both programs.

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