Moving from Science to Action: A Book Drive for Moore

By Diamilet Perez Betancourt, SOARS Protégé​​

Have you ever been fascinated by a weather event, yet heartbroken when you learn about its aftermath? As an atmospheric science student, I'm often overwhelmed with both feelings.

I grew up searching the sky for weird-looking clouds and interesting weather. I also watched weather events cause destruction in my community and wanted to help people prepare for weather-related disasters. Now, as a SOARS Protégé and graduate student, I help improve our scientific understanding of atmospheric phenomena. However, as I sit in my office solving equations or cracking computer codes, I can find it hard to remember the big picture, the broader impacts of my research – that is, until a tornado hits.

On May 20, 2013, a deadly tornado hit the city of Moore, Oklahoma, claiming lives, causing injuries, and devastating homes and other buildings. The tornado was classified as an EF-5, the highest ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Two elementary schools were hit. Briarwood Elementary was destroyed. Plaza Towers Elementary was destroyed, too, and seven children died in the debris. The children and teachers who survived were left with devastating memories and without schools, materials, or books.

Meanwhile, in Boulder, Colorado, it was the first day of our SOARS internship at UCAR where twenty of us would spend the summer working on weather and climate research. Comments about the severe weather in Oklahoma floated around all day, but it wasn't until later that night that the sad news about the victims hit us.

Students posing with piles of books
SOARS collected many donations at UCAR and sent them to Moore Books for Moore Kids in Oklahoma, who distributed them to the teachers of Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools.

We felt helpless and wanted to do something, so we talked to SOARS Director Rebecca Haacker-Santos about it the next day. "Rebecca had the brilliant idea of collecting books for the schools that were severely affected by the tornado. The idea seemed to be a great way to help the kids, adults, and society of Moore," recalled SOARS Protégé Rosimar Rios-Berrios.

Our friend Nicole Grams, who was assisting with disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma, pointed us to Moore Books for Moore Kids, a group of teachers, former teachers, and other friends collecting book donations from around the country for the elementary schools. SOARS staff member Helen Satchwell volunteered to help us coordinate a book drive at UCAR. She set up our three drop off locations, collected and stored donations in her office, and was the point-of-contact for donors. We created a flyer requesting new or gently used books for Kindergarten-6th grade reading levels. Many Protégés helped post the flyers around UCAR's three locations in Boulder.

The response we received from UCAR employees and visitors was amazing. When Helen, Rosimar, and I met in June to go through the donations, we counted over 100 books. And the donations kept coming! It was inspiring to see so many people step away from their daily activities to think about helping the children of Moore. As Helen put it, "I found it very motivating to see a communal effort to help rebuild schools and provide students with educational resources."

According to Moore Books for Moore Kids' Facebook page, the organization was able to collect approximately 100,000 books from across the country. On July 13, they held a huge event at Eastlake Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City to distribute the books to the teachers of Briarwood and Plaza Towers. Many volunteers helped teachers select their book collections and load their cars. As teachers themselves have expressed, Moore Books for Moore Kids was an inspiring effort for which they and the children of Moore will be forever grateful.

On behalf of SOARS, I send a huge thank you to all who contributed to this book drive! The success of this book drive at UCAR and the overall success of Moore Books for Moore Kids shows how people can make a difference.

"Our biggest takeaway from this experience," said Rosimar, "is that there are people willing to help those who need it the most."