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Chilliwack Learning Society finds new way to get free books to kids amid COVID-19 pandemic

Debbie Denault is hoping others will join her in handing out free books in their own neighbourhoods
Some of the thousands of books Debbie Denault has on hand that she wants to get into the hands of young readers. (Debbie Denault)

It’s a free-book system that’s working in Debbie Denault’s neighbourhood, and she’s hoping people in other neighbourhoods will join her.

Denault is the literacy outreach coordinator for Chilliwack Learning Society (CLS). It’s her job to collect and hand out free books to kids and families, but as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, distribution recently came to a halt.

Events and workshops where she’d normally give away books have been cancelled. And of course, schools and public libraries are shut down, so kids can’t get books that way either.

“It’s really one of my passions to make books available,” Denault said.

With thousands of books at her fingertips, she had to get them out to families in Chilliwack. So she reached out to her neighbours via Facebook and people took her up on her offer.

“We’ve been asked to take care of each other and to take care of the people in our neighbourhoods, so I thought maybe I can give books to the families in my neighbourhood,” Denault said.

She takes orders from families in her neighbourhood of McIntosh and Meadowbrook drives. She collects info from them, such as the ages of the kids and their interests, and then selects about a dozen books from her stash. She wipes each one down with a diluted bleach solution, ties them up with string, and leaves them on her front porch for pick-up. Denault arranges it so no two families would be picking up books at the same time.

“They are just as happy as can be,” she said.

After testing it in her own neighbourhood, and getting the go-ahead from the CLS board of directors, she’s now hoping other people in different neighbourhoods throughout Chilliwack will follow suit.

She has bins of books to give to those who want to help distribute them the way she’s doing.

“For me its about literacy, it’s about filling the gap because of the libraries’ and schools’ books being not available, and building relationships in our neighbourhoods so we can get to know more people.”

She said this system of handing out books to kids in the neighbourhood is similar to an initiative they did in October where folks handed out books instead of candy to children at Halloween.

Denault thinks it could be fun for families to go for a walk and at the end of the walk there’s a treasure or a surprise waiting for the kids.

Last year, CLS gave away 3,500 books. The books come from various places like the Rotary Book Sale, Bowls of Hope Society, The Book Man, Chilliwack citizens and book drives. She sometimes also gets grant of new books.

Those who pick up books are asked to keep them. If, when the social distancing regulations have been lifted, people are finished with the books and would like to return them, Denault is happy to take them back to give them away to other children.

If you would like to participate for your neighbourhood, or would like to pick up books for your family from the Meadowbrook/McIntosh area, contact Debbie Denault at or 604-701-2294.

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Jenna Hauck

About the Author: Jenna Hauck

I started my career at The Chilliwack Progress in 2000 as a photojournalist.
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