Book project will benefit reduced-price school lunches

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The power of poetry will soon be able to feed local children in need of a little help, thanks to a project that launched Tuesday.

“Bobo Books: 111 Vol. 1,” the brainchild of Emily Bobo, a professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington, is a collaborative project combining art and poetry to raise money for MCCSC’s reduced-price lunch program.

Working with children at Rogers Elementary School, and also with adult learners at First Presbyterian Church, Bobo’s 12 Introduction to Poetry students spent the spring semester compiling a book of poetry and photographs. The proceeds from that book, on sale Tuesday on Amazon for $8, will be donated to the Monroe County Community School Corp.’s reduced-price lunch program.

Essentially, one sold book feeds one child for one week.

It’s an idea that has been brewing in Bobo’s head for years, and one she’s thrilled to see come to fruition.

“In the past, my students have made these handmade booklets, as a sort of portable award to celebrate their work,” Bobo said. “But I’ve been wanting to do more, to help them make some sort of actual impact, as well as the intrinsic rewards of celebrating their work.”

After hearing a story on National Public Radio about kids being chastised for having to accept the free lunch at school, which was different from paid lunches, Bobo knew where the proceeds would go.

“When she first contacted me, I thought it sounded like a great idea; I just didn’t know how it was going to work,” said Hattie Johnson, MCCSC’s director of food services. Even so, Johnson knew the need was there.

MCCSC currently has 540 students in the reduced-price lunch program, many from families who are barely getting by, but who make too much to qualify for food stamps and for free lunches at school.

Reduced-price lunches cost 40 cents, while breakfast is an additional 30 cents. It may not seem like much, Johnson said, but the cost can add up, especially for parents with multiple kids at school.

“All of a sudden, if I don’t have to pay that 70 cents a day, I can pay my water bill this month,” Johnson said of the parents. “It’s an amazing little book. It would go a long way to helping these kids and these families.”

So Bobo contacted a friend, photographer Charity Heggestad, and asked her to provide a series of photographs that could act as writing prompts. Bobo and her students then took the images, laminated for durability, to Sara Deckard’s kindergarten class, Michael Love’s first-grade class and Cynthia Creek’s second-grade class at Rogers Elementary and worked in small groups to write poems.

“I was worried that black-and-white photos might be a barrier, but they took right to it,” Bobo said of the younger students.

Deckard said her kindergartners had a blast working with the Ivy Tech students.

“The children love poetry, even at age 5,” she said. “It was just really powerful to have collaborative work time with college students. They helped my kids and let them say their poems verbally, then wrote them down.

“Some of them came up with some very vivid imagery. They took real pride in the process.”

In all, 35 poems were selected to accompany 34 photographs to fill out the finished Bobo Book. The poets range in age from 5 to 67. Throughout the book are quotes from Bobo’s students about their experience working on the project.

“There is no age requirement when it comes to poetry; that is what these young people have taught me … these energetic children and their beautiful poems,” Elijah Christy wrote.

“I just wrote what they saw, and it came out as poetry,” Mary Frierson wrote.

“When I first came into Rogers Elementary, I was prepared to teach the children. In the end, it was actually them that taught me,” Austin Williams wrote.

Bobo said she intends to expand the project in the coming years to other schools in the Bloomington area and elsewhere to continue creating “something useful and something beautiful.”

Johnson said the discussion is still ongoing as to exactly how the funds will be distributed within MCCSC, but she doesn’t have any concerns that it will get worked out.

“I’m hoping the book is a big hit,” Johnson said. “I still can’t believe she got it done.”

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