The Pickerington Local School District's 14 schools will serve as book collection points next month in a regional effort to boost childhood reading.

The Pickerington Local School District's 14 schools will serve as book collection points next month in a regional effort to boost childhood reading.

For the past several years, the Pickerington Education Association -- the union representing PLSD teachers -- has helped collect books for Reach Out and Read, a national nonprofit organization that partners with pediatric physicians to promote early literacy and school readiness.

This year is no different. Throughout February, the teachers will lead a book-collection drive at Pickerington schools.

"Reach Out and Read is a nationwide reading program, and in central Ohio, it's coordinated through Nationwide Children's Hospital," said Erin Salzer, an intervention specialist at Pickerington High School Central and co-chair of the district's Reach Out and Read program. "It's an early literacy program, and when a child comes in a for a well-care visit at Children's Hospital or a (Children's Hospital) Close to Home Center, they are given a book from a pediatrician."

According to Salzer, more than 50,000 books were distributed to central Ohio children last year through the Reach Out and Read program.

"The book collection is focused on collecting new and gently used books for children ages 6 months up through 5 years old," she said. "Gently used books up through the eighth-grade level can be collected.

"You can donate new and gently used books at any Pickerington Local school."

In addition to books, local Reach Out and Read organizers are accepting monetary donations to purchase books for local children. This past weekend, a book fair was held at a local bookstore, where up to 25 percent of proceeds from sales were donated to the program.

Additionally, the program is being aided by a partnership with Kroger in which proceeds from customers using Kroger cards will be directed to the program.

"The Pickerington Education Association participates in this because it's part of our community outreach through our Central Ohio Education Association," Salzer said. "Dr. Karen Mantia (PLSD superintendent) supports the education association and the program, and it's a good way to promote reading among young people."

Additional information about the Reach Out and Read program can be found online at www.nationwidechildrens.org/reach-out-and-read.