In early 2020, Gail Nolte and her husband Dale Beck started Side By Side, a volunteer-led effort to “serve our neighbors, share our gifts, and support our community.” The Colerain Township couple compiled a list of community projects to complete. But when COVID hit, they had to make a new plan.
Filling the gap
They started by finding out what Colerain’s food pantries needed and putting out a call for donations every week. “We called it gap,” Gail said. “Whatever they were short of, we collected.”
The response was overwhelming. People donated nonperishable food and other items, dropping them off in the couple’s driveway.
By the end of 2020, Side By Side had donated 15,000 pounds of food to the pantries!
Next came the books
On a visit to BLOC Ministries in Price Hill to pick up pantry donations, Gail and Dale saw pallets of children’s books sitting in the warehouse. “The books came from a school that had closed and they had been there for two years,” Gail said. “BLOC said they didn’t know what to do with them.”
One thing led to another, or as Gail says, “God just puts things in your path,” and it wasn’t long before Gail and Dale rented a truck to bring the books – six pallets of them – to a storage unit near their home.
After volunteers cleaned and sorted the books, they were given away at Colerain’s food pantries.
“When families came to get a box of food, they were able to get a bag of books for their kids,” Gail said. “Kids were so excited when they were handed a bag of five books.”
This was just the beginning of what became the Book By Book program.
“We learned that two-thirds of kids who live in poverty do not have a single book in their home,” Gail said. “So when you look at our free lunch program in this area, we’re probably looking at 4,000 kids. We just want to change that.”
Collecting more books
Rumpke donated bins to collect donations of new and gently used books. The Colerain Chamber of Commerce helped get businesses to sponsor the bins, which were painted and placed in and near businesses around the Township.
Setting up little libraries
People Working Cooperatively and the Colerain Fire Department built Little Free Library boxes as part of WeTHRIVE! Colerain Give Back Day. In 2020, Side By Side put up nine new Little Free Libraries in Colerain, including two at Colerain fire stations.
“We picked places that weren’t going to be your typical places,” Gail explained. “It’s not the Little Free Library where it’s in an affluent community and everybody’s sharing books. It’s in impoverished areas where we are filling it with books. The intent right now because of covid is, forget lending library, just take it home and build your own library. So that’s what we really want folks to do.”
In 2020, Book By Book gave away 18,000 books!
More than books
Side By Side is more than books and Little Libraries. A glance at the group’s Facebook page shows just how much their volunteers do for the community. They take lunch and treats to firefighters, rake leaves for the elderly and disabled, tutor elementary school students, and much more.
As a program of BLOC Ministries, “we are working side by side with other people with different talents and gifts and other positive organizations to make changes that are positive for everyone,” Gail said. Side By Side has more than 100 volunteers. Most come from Colerain but some are from nearby Green Township (another WeTHRIVE! community).
Side By Side also partners with organizations in Colerain and surrounding areas, including WeTHRIVE! friends and partners like the Mt. Healthy Alliance, Tikkun Farm, Colerain Fire, and the YMCA. “We really try to reach out broadly,” Gail said. “We look to partner with any group that is positively impacting the community.”
Gail and Dale are also members of Colerain’s WeTHRIVE! team. They are certainly contributing to WeTHRIVE!’s mission to create a culture of health, safety and vitality in Hamilton County!
Interested in learning more or getting involved? Email Gail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Side By Side on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sidebysidecinci.