by Logan Gruber
One lucky little girl was the surprise recipient of the one millionth book from the United Way of Central Minnesota’s Imagination Library this past week.
On April 16, 15-month-old Layla Hawkins, was the lucky one millionth recipient. Layla is the daughter of Chantal and Cole Hawkins of St. Joseph. Layla’s sister, Amyra, 2-1/2, also receives monthly books from the Imagination Library.
“They love books,” Chantal said outside their home. “They get something new and interesting to read each month!”
Imagination Library was started by singer Dolly Parton in 1995. Her goal was to help preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high-quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she hoped children would get excited about books and reading. She also wanted to make sure every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.
The United Way of Central Minnesota brought Imagination Library to the area in 2005. Since then, more than 28,000 central Minnesota children have received free books through the program. For the United Way, central Minnesota is defined as all of Stearns and Benton counties, and parts of Sherburne and Wright counties. St. Joseph has had 1,100 children enrolled since the start of the program, while Sartell has 2,700.
Children can be enrolled up to age five, and will receive books from birth to age five. If a child is enrolled at birth, they will receive 60 books, one per month, before they age out of the program.
Jessica Johnson, marketing and communications manager for the United Way of Central Minnesota, lives in St. Joseph.
“We work closely with area hospitals like CentraCare to put our information into birth packets for new parents,” Johnson said. “We’re getting them to read so they can read your newspapers!”
Chantal and Cole had their daughters signed up since birth. Amyra’s favorite books are the Disney princess books, while Layla’s favorite is Giggles with Daddy.
“I was like, ‘Layla, you’re going to get the one millionth book tomorrow!’ and she was like ‘Bookie!'” Chantal exclaimed.
The book Llama Llama Red Pajama was delivered by Todd Ruegemer of Cold Spring. Ruegemer has worked at the St. Joseph post office for eight years. He has two sons who have also received Imagination Library books.
“I was surprised they were at a million books . . . that’s a lot of books!” Ruegemer said.
Approximately 200 Imagination Library books per month are delivered through the St. Joseph post office.
To learn more about the United Way of Central Minnesota and the Imagination Library, head to unitedwayhelps.org.