New chapter for New Orleans schools

Alumni send thousands of books to schools in need.

The devastation Hurricane Katrina inflicted in 2005 is still very evident today in New Orleans. But a group from Santa Clara is doing what it can to help heal the city’s wounds, one book at a time.

Since learning about the need for books in New Orleans school libraries on an immersion trip to the city earlier this year, the Alumni Association has sent more than 5,000 children’s books to the New Orleans School District. With shipping costs picked up by a friend of the University, boxes filled with books have been shipped every month since May, with another shipment scheduled to go out mid-September.

Mary Modeste Smoker ’81, the Alumni Association’s assistant director for community service and spiritual programs and organizer of the book drive, says the idea arose this January when she and a group of alumni were working to build a playground at a New Orleans elementary school. The volunteer coordinator for the school district mentioned the need for books, and the rest is history.

“A school library without books is like a playground without swings,” said Troy Peloquin, volunteer coordinator for the Recovery School District in New Orleans. “I don’t think there are words to thank all of those who have given our students such a meaningful gift.”

Kathy Mitchell ’87, a fifth-grade teacher at Ron Nunn School in Brentwood, brought a carload of readers and chapter books to the alumni office one afternoon this summer. They weren’t all hers. She had asked fellow teachers and the school librarian to collect books for the drive, and her students helped to organize them. “As teachers we are hoarders, but knowing these books were going to be used, it made it easier to part with them,” she said.

How long will the drive continue? “As long as I have people bringing in great books, we’ll keep sending them,” says Smoker. “The network keeps growing.”

For more information about the book drive and how you can participate through donations and purchasing Barnes and Noble gift cards, visit


post-image NOLA bound: Mary Modeste Smoker, left, helps Kathy Mitchell carry donated books. Photo: Charles Barry
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