In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the American Federation of Teachers, First Book, and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation have announced plans to provide targeted relief. The partner organizations are coordinating with first responders, educators, and volunteers to deliver brand-new books and basic-needs items to areas affected by Harvey and Irma. This hurricane relief effort falls under the overall mission of the recently announced Essentials for Kids Fund, which is a new national initiative created to address the need for books and materials—including items like hygiene kits, clothing, and school supplies—in public school districts across the country that are underfunded.

The $200,000 seed funding that launched the Essentials for Kids Fund includes $125,000 from the AFT and $75,000 from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. The AFT has earmarked $25,000 of its initial donation for Harvey-affected educators, and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation has earmarked its donation for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Additional contributions to the fund specifically designated to support educators in areas ravaged by Hurricane Irma are being organized and will be announced soon.

One hundred percent of all money raised for the Essentials for Kids Fund hurricane relief efforts, and for the general Essentials for Kids Fund, will go directly to aid educators serving children in need. The Fund is actively accepting donations on its website, where there is also an option for donors to begin their own crowdfunding campaign to support specific areas. For example, visitors to the web page will see that AFT affiliates in Baltimore; Toledo, Ohio; and Socorro, Tex., have begun their own crowdfunding efforts.

“A union is a family, and we are doing what we can to help educators and students deal with the impact of Hurricane Harvey,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten in a statement about the relief efforts. “That includes supporting them through the long process of rebuilding, and starts with restocking their schools and classrooms. We’re also stepping up to help educators across the country who dig into their own wallets to make sure their classrooms are stocked with basics and their students have a warm jacket, school supplies, food, or even basic hygiene products like shampoo,” she added.

The books in the Essentials for Kids Fund targeted for hurricane relief are provided by donor publishers Candlewick Press, Chronicle Books, Disney Publishing Worldwide, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, the Quarto Group, Simon Schuster, and Townsend Press. To date, these publishers have donated a combined total of 525,000 books for victims of Harvey and Irma. According to First Book, the first shipment of books has arrived in Houston, and a distribution date will be finalized this week.

In a statement about the launch of the Essential Kids Fund, Kyle Zimmer, president, CEO and co-founder of First Book, spoke about the Fund’s broad mission. “We can’t allow our teachers to have to beg for handouts or permit the staggering loss of potential that results when students don’t have what they need for learning,” she said. “This fund will provide critical funding support for schools and programs serving children in need, as well as help to replace books and supplies in areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey.” First Book has extensive experience in spearheading relief efforts. Over the years, the organization has distributed more than five million books to children and educators affected by various disasters.

Commenting specifically about the Houston area, Dr. Julie Baker Finck, president of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, stressed how critical it is for Harvey-affected families to regain a sense of normalcy as soon as they can, which involves re-opening the local schools. “It is imperative that our educators have the books and resources in their classrooms to support academic success and aid in the socio-emotional well-being of children following this catastrophic event,” she said.

Educators can access the Essentials for Kids Fund in several ways:

  • An educator is eligible for funds if 70% or more of the kids they work with are from low-income families or are affected by Hurricane Harvey. Educators who are not already part of the First Book network can register—free of charge—with First Book and receive gift credits to the First Book Marketplace.

  • The AFT offers grants of up to $150 to members serving Title I and Title I-eligible schools, and to non-members up to $100 to spend at the First Book Marketplace, where they can obtain resources they need including new high-quality books, clothing, and sports equipment priced 50–90 percent below retail. Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until the fund is depleted.

  • Educators affected by Hurricane Harvey can receive up to $200 worth of First Book Marketplace gift credits until the fund is depleted.