Mackenzie Krestul has always had a passion for reading, which is what has fueled her desire to be a writer since she was a young girl.
“When I realized that a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to have a lot of books at home, like I always have, I wanted to do something to help,” Krestul said.
That’s why Krestul, at age 16, founded Code Read, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide books to elementary school children in low-income communities, hoping to give every child an equal opportunity to increase their academic growth through reading.
Now, four years later, the organization has distributed more than 20,000 books, as Krestul continues to follow her passion with the help of her mother, Amanda Krestul, who she considers the “driving force” of the organization while she’s away at school.
According to the Literacy Project, there are 45 million Americans who are considered functionally illiterate, unable to read above a fifth-grade level. “The lack of age-appropriate reading material at home is one of the largest factors impacting literacy levels.”
And now that schools and libraries are closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, children have less access to books than normal.
“Not only is it important for children to have books for their education, but right now, with everything that’s going on, it’s so important as a form of escapism and to make sure kids still keep their imaginations active,” Krestul said. “It’s also important for them to see characters going through difficult times of their own and seeing how those characters overcome their circumstances so that they as children know that even though we are in trying times, they will have this strength and ability to get through it and come out of it stronger.”
Code Read had to cancel its planned events, but Krestul still wanted to find a way to get books to those who need them.
“We had all of these books ready to give away in our garage, and we decided to reach out to L.A. Family Housing and the Department of Child and Family Services to see if there was any way that we could get the books distributed,” she added. “So that way it limits contact and we’re following social distancing requirements, but we’re still able to get the books to the kids who need them.”
Unable to do a book-fair-style event, allowing kids to come in and pick out their own books, like usual, they’ve instead been prepacking book bags, which contain four books in various genres, sorted by reading level and age group.
Those bags have then been distributed to both organizations, as well as at school lunch distributions in the county.
The organization is also continuing to work on its capital campaign to purchase a bookmobile, which would allow it to expand its outreach to include Head Start centers, children’s hospitals and juvenile detention centers across the county.
“There are library mobiles that go around, but as far as we know, no organization has a bookmobile, which is a combination of an ice cream truck and a little book fair contained inside,” Krestul said, adding that the bookstore-on-wheels would be equipped with book shelves and carts to hold 2,000 books.
For more information on Code Read, visit mycoderead.org or 818-238-7686.