SARASOTA/BRADENTON, FL – When Jude Creamer first dreamed up the idea for “Recycled Reading Buddies” in 2016, it was a lone endeavor carried out at her kitchen table, intended to provide an artistic outlet while her husband traveled for work. However, as people have learned about the effort, it has grown by leaps and bounds. Now, thanks to a recent collaboration with Goodwill Manasota, the ability to provide stuffed animals and books to children at Head Start programs and Title I schools has increased exponentially.
At its core, Recycled Reading Buddies is intended to help foster a lifelong love of reading. Children are provided with previously-loved children’s books and stuffed animals (that have been refreshed and re-fluffed) that they can read their new book to. Each item is thoroughly examined, cleaned, matched, and presented in a beautiful cellophane package for the young recipients to enjoy.
While her intention was to sell the book and “stuffies” pairs online and at craft fairs, Creamer decided to pivot to providing them to underprivileged children during the holidays. After she moved to Florida in 2018, Creamer made and donated 80 packages. By 2023, Creamer’s peers from the Encore of Sarasota (a women’s philanthropic group) had signed on to help: during the assembly party in March, they made 250 units in just three hours.
Earlier this year at a networking event, Donna Evans – Goodwill Manasota’s director of the White Glove Service – overheard Creamer talking about Recycled Reading Buddies and said, “We can help with that!”
With Goodwill’s Logistics Center setting aside scores of plush toys, 356 more units were made and donated to Children First to support its literacy program. Creamer is currently working on getting more books to match up with the multitude of bins of stuffed toys donated by Goodwill and will be partnering with the volunteers at the Elks Lodge South Sarasota to create another set to be donated as literacy-themed holiday gifts. Those “buddies” are earmarked for children in a group the Elks Club supports.
“As the word spreads, more and more people are asking how they can help!” said Creamer. She explained that, from 2015-2022, there were a total of 1,200 Recycled Reading Buddies units donated but that, “In 2023, with Goodwill’s support, we’ve already produced 606 units – we’re able to help so many more kids because of Goodwill becoming involved!”
“Goodwill Manasota believes in the power of partnering with other nonprofits to align and expand our missions, so we can serve even more people in our community,” said Alexa Olivas, VP of donated goods operations. “It is rewarding for us to know that, by repurposing some of these gently-used plush toys for Recycled Reading Buddies, we are also supporting other local nonprofits, such as Children First. Together, we are helping to bring a smile to a child’s face, creating lifelong reading habits, and doing something good for the planet.”
To learn more about Recycled Reading Buddies, visit recycledreadingbuddies.com. For more about Goodwill, visit experiencegoodwill.org.
About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that changes lives through the power of work. With philanthropic donations and revenue generated by the sales of donated goods, Goodwill is able to assist people with disabilities, veterans, seniors, and those with other barriers to employment by providing jobs, job skills training, and free career services. For more information or for a listing of locations, visit experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721.