RUMSON — Since 2002, the nonprofit Bridge of Books Foundation has distributed approximately 1.3 million books to children from birth through age 18, throughout all 21 New Jersey counties.

Founder and executive director Abby Daly said the number of books the volunteer organization has actually collected is much higher, as they carefully comb through donations, and sort them to filter out anything age-inappropriate.

These new or gently-used books are meant to reach the most underserved of New Jersey's kids, who may not have consistent access to reading material in their homes, schools, or communities.

Some of the books have been discarded from libraries, but soon find new homes within New Jersey schools. Over the years, many districts have sought out Bridge of Books for just this purpose.

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"Kids who get books today need books next month and next year, so many organizations, we've been working with for 10-plus years," Daly said.

Other groups with which Bridge of Books partners include prisons, food banks, newborn programs, and various community organizations.

Daly said one qualification the organization prioritizes is that all books given out must be completely intact.

"You don't want a child to feel like a second-class citizen," she said. "If they pick up a book that's supposed to have stickers, honestly we feel that if even one sticker is missing, that book needs to go."

COVID-19 has impacted Bridge of Books in a couple of ways, according to Daly, not the least of which is that the changes to the educational system necessitated by pandemic restrictions have emphasized the need for books more than ever.

Plus, the group's network of "volunteer moms," as Daly put it, obviously has not gotten to work together, in person, as much as in previous years.

Most seriously, however, Daly said the foundation is at a "transition point," having been asked to vacate the donated storage space it has used for the past five years.

So while the hunger for books continues, right now Bridge of Books' most pressing needs are monetary, to hopefully secure a permanent place for the future, and "no amount is too little," Daly said.

Even in the face of the pandemic, Bridge of Books' influence throughout New Jersey can be seen on the organization's Instagram account. To find out more or to donate, go to bridgeofbooksfoundation.org.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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