OLDSMAR — Last summer, Chase Hartman and his buddy Vance Tomasi saw a story on the news about schools that had been affected by a string of hurricanes in Louisiana. That’s when the proverbial lightbulb went off for the fifth-graders.
Vance, 11, and Chase, 10, both honors students at Mary Bryant Elementary School, in Tampa, and Cub Scouts and avid readers, decided to donate some extra books they had lying around to the schools that were affected by the storms.
Since then, the pair have donated more than 25,000 books through their “read.repeat” initiative, including drops of more than 4,000 books to several Title I schools in the area, more than 1,000 copies to the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, in Tampa, and most recently, 300 books to the Oldsmar Public Library and 300 to Dunedin Elementary School.
“Our goal was to deliver more than 20,000 books by Feb. 28, and we’re over 25,000 already, so we’ve exceeded our expectations,” Vance, who serves as the duo’s unofficial spokesperson, said during the book drop in Oldsmar on Feb. 15.
“When they first told us about it, I thought their goal of 20,000 books was a bit extreme,” Chase’s mom, Kim Parrish, said. “But they’ve worked so hard to reach that goal. To see kids work on a goal like this and achieve what they have so far is astounding. It’s inspiring.”
Since they began their effort, the boys have donated thousands of hardcovers and paperbacks from every genre to more than 30 locations in three states, which they’ve received from friends, community organizations as well as a partnership with Tampa-based used bookseller, 2 Swell Guys. They’ve also been featured multiple times on the local news and have spoken to student bodies and city officials. But despite the immense success of their project, the endeavor ran into a major obstacle when they recently lost their storage space, forcing them to headquarter the operation in the Hartman family garage.
“We probably have 750 in the garage now. That’s why I told the mayor we need storage space,” Vance said, referring to a plea the “kidpreneurs” made to the Oldsmar City Council in January.
“We need to sort and organize the books to bring them to certain places,” Hartman added, noting they can’t bring children’s books to VA hospitals nor adult fare to elementary schools. “If we didn’t have to do it all in my garage, it would be much easier.”
Despite the storage-space setback, the two professed bookworms continue to promote the power of reading while providing the tools to do so for thousands of readers, and their efforts are being lauded by the recipients of their philanthropy.
“We take donations all the time, but not usually this much,” Oldsmar Public Library Director Susan Hurley said after the boys and their helpers dropped boxes full of books at the main desk. “We’re always happy when kids want to help out and are really excited about reading. They are really great kids, and what they are doing is amazing.”
For their part, the boys said it’s all about seeing the expression on the kids’ faces when they deliver the books, especially to Title 1 schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families.
“When we deliver the books, the kids are in disbelief!” Vance said. “They can’t believe it. They’re like, ‘You have Harry Potter?!’ I’m pretty amazed at it, and shocked and happy.”
“They’re very thankful,” Chase added. “I feel happy because I’m seeing all these kids happy.”