If Vicki-lynn Brunskill knew one thing in the pit of her stomach, it was that she couldn’t waste one more day merely thinking about all the ways she could be helping those in need.
When a wave of tornados swept through Oklahoma last month and devastated a community of people just like herself, Brunskill couldn’t wait any longer. Before she could talk herself out of it, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native had thrown together a massive book drive for the desecrated elementary schools in Moore, Okla.
“I love children and I love books,” Brunskill said. “And what is a school without books? When I was in elementary school the library was my salvation — and these kids in Oklahoma need an escape.”
Sadly, the road to healing is a long one and this is especially true for the children who were unfortunate enough to seek shelter directly within the path of the tornado that hit Plaza Towers Elementary School. It was one of the two elementary schools in the area that were flattened during the storm and by the time rescuers arrived, the building was all but gone.
Seven of the children sheltered there were confirmed dead by the time rescuers arrived and the survivors, some of them barely old enough to read themselves to sleep, are now left to pick up the pieces.
Heartbroken and sickened by the devastation left for the children of Moore, Brunskill said she knew if she could give them anything, it was the same gift that had been offered her by her own teachers and adoptive parents in Brooklyn — the gift of storytelling.
“Imagine losing friends, your school and your home.” Brunskill said. “Books like ‘Peter Pan’ and the Nancy Drew series helped me escape when I was a child. I can only hope it might do the same for them.”
And just as soon as Brunskill made up her mind, she posted the information on her blog and causes.com, imploring people to donate their used children’s books. When the books slowly filtered in, she used her own home as a temporary storage space.
“I’ve only had about 11 folks sign up to help on causes.com, which doesn’t seem like much at all. However, I’ve already received about 100 books,” Brunskill said. “Locally, people have been donating. And so I said to myself, ‘Let’s just see what one person can do. Let’s just see.’”
Since then, Brunskill’s one-woman operation has garnered some much-deserved attention. A Girl Scout Troop in Delaware, Troop 969, pledged 1,500 books. A school superintendent in Calhoun promised more than 100. And later, a kindergarten teacher offered her entire classroom library.
Brunskill was blown away by the support but had unknowingly run into an entirely different problem: transporting what she hopes will be 5,000 children’s books to Moore at the end of the three-month drive.
Currently, the elementary schools in Moore are little more than rubble, and donation centers in and around the area have asked that donors refrain from sending any items until they begin rebuilding.
In a way, that gives Brunskill more time to receive donations, but she’ll also be charged with delivering the books herself. It could be a very long ride to Oklahoma, but having come this far, she has no desire to back out now.
“It’s one step at a time, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” said Brunskill. “But it’s in my head and I’m doing it.”
To help Brunskill reach her goal of donating 5,000 books to the Moore, Okla., elementary schools, send all children’s books to P.O. Box 249, Richmond Hill, Ga. 31324, or simply drop the books off at Ella’s on Ford Avenue in Richmond Hill or at E. Shaver, Bookseller in downtown Savannah.