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Culture & Religion

Meet the Nonprofit That Distributes Books by Bicycle to Low-Income Neighborhoods

Nashville-based Ride for Reading began as an elementary school teacher’s endeavor to put books in the hands of low-income children.

One of my favorite things about the Ideafeed blog here at Big Think is that it gives us the opportunity to grab the bullhorn whenever we find a really cool idea worth spreading. For instance, has a nice little profile up on an elementary school teacher named Mathew Portell, who runs the Nashville-based nonprofit Ride for Reading. Since its start in 2008, Ride for Reading has delivered over 250,000 books to low-income children in 16 states — all from the seats of bicycles.

Here’s how Portell describes his organization’s origin:

“During my first year of teaching, I asked my students to read for 15 minutes at home each night. One student replied that he didn’t have any books at home to read. It didn’t take me long to realize that student’s problem wasn’t unique. According to the Handbook of Early Literacy Research, the ratio of books per child in low-income neighborhoods is one age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

I felt compelled to do something to help my students and others like them — so I combined my passion for cycling and reading.”

One book per 300 children is a staggering statistic, especially when we know full well that much of a child’s future success can be determined by early learning and literacy. Ride for Reading began as Portell’s effort to improve on that bad situation while also promoting healthy living. The video below offers a thorough explainer of Ride for Reading’s mission, vision, and logistics.

The piece (linked again below) features a short conversation with Portell on how the team manages to pull off delivering hundreds of books by way of bicycles — typically not the chosen vehicle of book distributors. Overall, Ride for Reading is one of those cool ideas you’re glad to see take off. It’s the sort of nonprofit that provides a key benefit to those it seeks to serve while simultaneously providing a healthy activity for volunteers.


Photo credit: alvarez / Getty iStock


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