Retired educators in Steamboat start book drive for Paradise |

Retired educators in Steamboat start book drive for Paradise

Strawberry Park Elementary School teachers and students help Marcia and Steve Kaufman collect books to send to Paradise, California. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Anna Schumacher, Jesse Farias Guzman, Vivian Reichley, Vanessa Avita-Perez, Sofia Scherff-Zamora, Emma Haubert and Hadley Ellsworth. Back: Tracy Stoddard, Marcia Kaufman, Steve Kaufman and Loretta Edwards.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the two elementary schools and library in Paradise, California, burned down in November due to the Camp Fire wildlife, so did thousands upon thousands of books. Also gone were the personal libraries in the 14,000 homes destroyed by the fire.

Cleanup has only just begun in the town that lost 86 residents and about 80 percent of its homes to the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

As they read details of the devastation, retired Steamboat Springs educators Steve and Marcia Kaufman knew they had boxes of extra books at home. And, they know how important books are in a child’s education.

“Reading is critical to everything,” said Steve Kaufman, who was the principal at Soda Creek Elementary School for close to 20 years. He is also a retired volunteer firefighter.

So, Marcia Kaufman, who taught at Strawberry Park Elementary School for 18 years and still fills in as a substitute teacher, sorted through the books she had used in her 25 years in the classroom and kept a few favorites for the grandkids, but the rest —about 500 books — will be sent to Paradise.

Then, the Kaufmans decided to reach out to the Steamboat schools, focusing on collecting books geared toward preschool through fifth-grade students.

The response, the Kaufmans said, has been great.

Last week, they picked up about 800 books at Soda Creek and Strawberry Park. Kristi Lear, a third grade teacher at Strawberry Park, offered up a $1,700 grant she was awarded to purchase about 450 books as part of the effort. Counting those, along with the 500 leftover from Marcia’s teaching career, the effort is nearing 2,000 books.

“I’m a little overwhelmed by all these books,” Steve said.

Some of the students made bookmarks to send with the books.

Books will be collected until Feb. 14, and then the Kaufmans will either drive or mail the books to California.

A friend from Steve’s poker group offered to help with the shipping costs.

“That’s just how this town is,” he added.

Steve has been in contact with Katie Abarca-Good of the North Valley Community Foundation in California. She runs an organization called Reading Pals, which pairs volunteers with students who need extra help with their reading skills.

The two quickly bonded over their history as students at rival Kansas colleges, and Abarca-Good said she’d happily accept some donated books.

Abarca-Good said some of the Paradise students and teachers are in schools in nearby Chico and Durham, while others have gone further away to Oroville. More than 60 percent of students at Paradise’s two public elementary schools were on free and reduced lunch, she said, and many families with limited resources to begin with lost everything.

Their books — and that glimpse they provide into other places — are particularly valuable in helping “provide a sense of the world,” Abarca-Good said.

Abarca-Good’s post-fire role has evolved into a liaison between teachers and the donated books — working to fulfill book requests from pre-K through 12th-grade teachers. She said she just got a delivery of 25 boxes of books from North Dakota.

She extended a heartfelt thank you to the Kaufmans and Steamboat schools.

“It’s been really amazing to see the nation’s outpouring of love and support,” Abarca-Good said.

Books can be dropped off at Soda Creek or Strawberry Park elementary schools or North Routt Community Charter School.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.