Amy Zaslansky is in the midst of her third life. The first was as an occupational therapist, the second as owner of an ecommerce business and now she is the founder and executive director of an organization that combines her two innate passions: reading and altruism. “I was an avid reader growing up, my mom basically raised me in the library,” the Bellmore resident recalled. “My dad is a retired teacher and he was constantly running and supporting any of the donation programs in his school.” Her parents’ advice left a lasting impression: “Help your neighbors before yourself.”
After selling her business, Zaslansky was in search of her next project when she learned teachers in a nearby school district were looking to raise money to buy books for students. She knew that her own district—and household—had more than enough supply to share. “I did a quick book drive in the Bellmore school district and we were able to collect over 3,000 books.”
The event became the start of The Book Fairies, a charity Zaslansky hadn’t realized she created until it was in full-swing. “After we helped that one school district, then I started doing a little more research…and I started learning how many schools don’t have books.” Indeed, Book Fairies has had more than 120 schools on its waitlist at times.
What started as a simple gesture for local children is having long-reaching effects. “I learned that one in four kids were going to grow up without learning how to read,” Zaslansky said. “If you can’t read you are already reduced to low-paid jobs…Many of these families [are in a] cycle of poverty and there is no way to break that cycle because these kids aren’t learning how to read. One of the main reasons they don’t know how to read is that they don’t have access to books.” To be eligible to participate in one of The Book Fairies’ free book fairs, half of the attending students in the school need to be a part of the free or reduced lunch program.
But because it’s not just schools—and children—suffering from economic strife and illiteracy, Book Fairies has bigger goals. The non-profit, which has already expanded into New York City schools, has branched out into other institutions. “We run the library at the Inn in Hempstead, the largest soup kitchen on Long Island. We give activity books to Winthrop University Hospital and Nassau University Medical Center. We do homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters. We support other non-profits…We supply Rikers Island with the books that they need.”
Zaslansky’s dream is to take The Book Fairies national and spread the power of literacy. Yet, it’s the small moments that are most rewarding—watching students clutch their new books to their chest with a smile. “For many of them these are the first books that they own…There is so much pride that they have and that is exciting for me to be a part of.”