Queens College’s English department recently publicly congratulated Abhinandan Gaba, a sophomore at Queens College and editor for The Knight News, for the successful launch of his non-profit Let’s Read NYC; an organization dedicated to helping supply NYC schools and libraries with donated books. Gaba worked with the English department, as well as another local non-profit, Project Cicero, whose goal is to redistribute ‘gently used and new books to NYC public school teachers, as many as they can transport back to their schools.’
The collaboration to collect books from the QC Community was a success, as Let’s Read NYC donated more than 500 books to a book drive that donated over 150,000 books to over 1,000 teachers. An incredibly inspiring story all around, and to think, it all started in Klapper Hall.
Dr. Siân Silyn Roberts, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the English department, who also signed up as one of the board members for Let’s Read NYC, describes the shaping of the non-profit. “Abhi came to us last semester, Fall 2022, [and] it was pretty early on,” Dr. Roberts said. “But he already had a plan, and was looking for institutional support. When he came to me, my initial response was to help in whatever way I can.”
And help she did. Dr. Siân Silyn Roberts explained that the timing was great, as she had just done a cleanup of her nine-year-old daughter’s bookshelf, and was just about to donate them to a veteran’s organization. “I remember saying, ‘That’s great, I’ve got like 5 boxes right now.’ I actually signed on as one of the board of directors,” Dr. Siân Silyn Roberts recounted. “It is a purely symbolic position, but he needed names on his organization so that he could get the lift he needed, get a foot in the doors of the places he wanted to get into. ”
Another necessity was storage space. “I had another office, the faculty office that wasn’t in use,” explains Dr. Siân Silyn Roberts, “He used it for about the semester and recently, we just got the key back.”
Gaba, a Mathematics and Economics co-major, spoke about the non-profit and when his idea to start Let’s Read NYC really took place. “The idea took root when I saw the immense amount of books on books shelves across schools and college campuses,” he explained. “These were books that no one read but others could use. I started off by finding donors and connecting with those who needed books. I did this primarily through Google searches and emails.”
When it came to collecting books, the response was extremely positive.
“Abhi came to us with a plan,” Dr. Roberts observed, “and when he came to us, it was clear he didn’t need us — he would have accomplished all this regardless. He planned to tap into the resources of a college community that he figured would have a lot of books.”
Gaba affirms this, explaining that when he first planned and outlined everything, it was in early Fall and he reached out to multiple members of the faculty and staff at Queens College. There was the idea to leave boxes around campus to collect book donations, but the response to the flyers, emails, and mass messaging was so great that the boxes were not even needed.
“I find it offensive when teachers don’t have the resources they need to teach their kids. It is truly heartbreaking,” said Dr. Roberts. “But it is also heartwarming when someone like Abhi comes in and helps. Who knows, maybe one of the kids who benefitted from the book drive will grow up and be an English major.”
Dr. Roberts also speculated that part of the reason for the drive was to protect the environment, which Abhi confirmed. When speaking about how books need a new home, Gaba stated ‘a landfill is not that.’ According to a research study on textbook recycling done by The National Wildlife Federation, around 320 million books are thrown into landfills each year; a staggering number that would explain the concern.
Let’s Read NYC is collaborating with Columbia University to provide books to an under-resourced library in the Philippines, as well as working closely with LaGuardia Community College and City College to donate books to military hospitals. There are also plans to provide books to Native American Reservations as well.
It’s uplifting to see what Abhi has done, and of course, what he and Let’s Read NYC plan to do in the future. Dr. Roberts agrees, stating that, “A Math and Economics double major, The Knight News, Let’s Read NYC — he really seems like of the guys who can truly move mountains, I really want to see what he can do next.”
In acknowledgment of his work with Let’s Read NYC — now transitioning to Let’s Read USA — the English Department, with support from Distinguished Professor Kimiko Hahn, will make Abhi the recipient of their first-ever Civics award, in recognition of his promoting access to books.