Local cyclists volunteer to pedal thousands of books to low-income students

5th annual 'Ride for Reading' happening Friday
Posted at 12:00 PM, May 11, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Friday morning, expect to see a parade of bicycles headed up Gilbert Avenue from Over-the-Rhine to Walnut Hills. 

It won't be your ordinary group ride. These cyclists, a group of volunteers spanning all types of riders, will have a mission -- to deliver thousands of books to local, low-income children. It's part of Cincinnati's fifth annual Ride for Reading event.

"The mission is to promote literacy and a healthy, active lifestyle," said organizer Judi LoPresti, who co-owns SPUN Bicycles in Northside.

LoPresti first teamed up with child literacy advocates Wordplay Cincy, also based in Northside, in 2013 to bring the Nashville-based National Ride for Reading program to the Queen City. Nationally, the program has delivered more than 300,000 books to low-income children in more than 30 cities, LoPresti said.

"I think we were one of the first cities to sign on, outside of Nashville," said Libby Hunter, co-owner and executive director for Wordplay Cincy.

This year, the books will go to kindergarten through sixth-grade students at Frederick Douglass Elementary School on Park Avenue.

Hunter said they decide which school to deliver books based on the number of students living in poverty.

By Wordplay's measure, Cincinnati ranks fourth in the nation in childhood poverty, with a little more than half of children living in low-income homes. That percentage increases to almost 75 percent among the city's African-American population.

"Since we're based in Northside, we chose each of our elementary schools for the first few years," she said.

As part of the program's motivation, Hunter pointed to what she called a "huge disparity" between kids of differing socioeconomic status when it comes to their home libraries.

"There's a huge disparity between middle-class kids, with an average around 13 books per child, and low-income homes, where there's one home library book for every 300 kids," she said.

The goal is to provide five books for each of the school's roughly 360 students.

It's a lofty goal, to be sure, but LoPresti feels confident.

"Each year, it's just gotten bigger and bigger," she said. "The last few years we focused on schools in Northside. Now we're focusing on other parts of the city."

In 2016, volunteers hauled nearly 3,000 books from Over-the-Rhine to Northside. The year before that, it was around 2,000.

Hunter said the future could see expansion of the program.

"We're looking at doing two schools next year," she said. "We want people to know that we are committed to this forever after."

For Hunter, half of the thrill is seeing the students' reaction when the cyclists arrive.

"The teachers bring them all outside as we're approaching," she said. "To see the kids cheering as we ride up like it's a rock concert, it's great."

This year, volunteer cyclists will meet at Coffee Emporium's Over-the-Rhine roasting facility on Walnut and 12th streets at 11 a.m. to pack up the books for transport before proceeding up 12th Street to Reading Road. Ultimately, the caravan will go up Gilbert Avenue to McMillan Avenue, eventually arriving on Park Avenue.

Leading the ride will be Queen City Bike President, Frank Henson. He called the event one of the best during Bike Month, annually celebrated in May. 

"In supporting Wordplay Cincy's mission to provide programs centered around reading, writing and storytelling, SPUN Bicycles and the cycling community are demonstrating a unique method of alternate transportation, delivery of books via a bicycle," he said.

In the event of rain, some of the books will be transported by truck, to avoid damage.

LoPresti pointed out that there is a Red Bike rental station nearby for those who wish to participate in the ride but do not have a bicycle. 

Hunter said those who want to help but might not feel inclined to make the ride can help with event set-up at Frederick Douglass, from noon to 2 p.m. Friday.

Hunter also made sure to emphasize that Ride for Reading is only one of their multiple literacy events throughout each year.

"We keep the same effort around creating a positive experience with literacy going all year round," she said.

Hunter said anyone who wants to volunteer for Wordplay Cincy's events can contact her here.

What: Ride for Reading 2017
When: Friday, May 12
Where (cyclists): Meet at Coffee Emporium roasting facility, 1200 Walnut St., 11 a.m.
Where (school volunteers): Meet at Frederick Douglass Elementary, 2627 Park Ave. at noon.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).