When Gina Sprenger moved to Indianapolis from Ohio in 2018, she eagerly started searching for a nonprofit focused on providing books for children. However, finding there wasn’t anything like that in Indianapolis, Sprenger set about creating her own nonprofit, the Indy Book Project. The organization works to ensure that all children have access to books, serving some of Indianapolis’ largest book deserts.
“We try to target book deserts, where studies have shown that there can be fewer than one book per 300 children,” Sprenger says. “Our goal is to get books into the hands of children who don’t have the opportunity to find books on their own.”
The nonprofit partners with neighborhood centers, food pantries, schools and little free libraries around downtown Indianapolis. “We have a little library steward who comes by to fill all the little libraries near downtown Indy. We have a lot of partners.”
Despite Covid, when the nonprofit had to shut down for six months, the Indy Book Project has been able to give away 65,000 books since 2018. “Studies show that having at least ten books in the home can make all the difference to a child’s studies, literary skills and love of learning,” Sprenger says. “So, we are really trying to get books to as many kids as possible. A lot of time we need more diverse books, and that is really a struggle for us. This year we hope to apply to more grants that will help us purchase more books in which the children can see themselves. That is very important to us as we grow.” Recently the nonprofit was awarded a $5,000 grant from the Junior League of Indianapolis to buy more diverse books.
Additionally, the Indy Book Project needs books for toddlers, or board books — books with pages pasted to paperboard. Parents whose children have moved on to more challenging books are encouraged to pass on their gently used (or even new) toddler books at any of the nonprofit’s collection sites: 7628 The Commons, Zionsville; Akard True Value, Boone Plaza; or Boone County Habitat for Humanity.
Otherwise, Sprenger encourages parents to consider donating their time. “We would welcome families with little children to come volunteer,” Sprenger says. “We know that little ones’ attention spans aren’t very long, so if the families want to come and stay for even a half hour, that is OK. It is important for children to learn that not everyone has access to books. Plus, they can learn about how important it is to give back at any age,”
As the nonprofit expands, Sprenger hopes to achieve even more through Indy Book Project, with new goals set for 2022. The all-volunteer team is currently looking for a new location. Right now, they are still working out of Sprenger’s garage. And by summer, she hopes to send every child from an Indianapolis book desert off with a handful of books to keep the kids reading throughout the break from school. “We’ve been growing into this amazing nonprofit,” Sprenger says. “We have tons of volunteers. We get a lot of support from the community. We get donations from families, and they usually give us our best books! And that’s how we keep growing, little by little.”