2013 Philanthropy Awards: Bernie’s Book Bank

Most recently updated: December 2020

In 2005, golf instructor Brian Floriani decided it was time to make a career change.

Drawn to the idea of becoming an elementary school teacher, he took a job as a reading paraprofessional. He soon realized there was a need to get books into the hands of children who did not have their own, or were unable to regularly visit a library.

“I just saw one child after another, all these kids, the way they showed up to school not reading ready, it was almost like they didn’t have a chance already and they had nothing to do with it,” Floriani says.

Brian founded Bernie’s Book Bank in 2009, which has since distributed more than 2 million books to more than 80,000 at-risk children. Each child is given 12 books a year from birth to sixth grade.

“When we were growing up, we got books over and over and over and over again,” he says. “And that’s what we need to be doing for these children if we expect them to be successful.”

Bernie’s Book Bank’s mission is to significantly increase book ownership among at-risk infants, toddlers and school-age children throughout the Chicago area by collecting, processing and redistributing new and gently used children’s books. The staff at Bernie’s Book Bank works with schools, corporations, churches and community groups to organize book drives, which average around 3,000 books per drive. The organization also receives donations from hundreds of collection partners and publishers.

After books are donated, they are purged for quality and content before being separated into age-appropriate groups with the help of volunteers. Bernie’s has 1,500 to 2,000 volunteer hours each month.

“What happens a lot of times is people will look at us like we’re doing great work,” Floriani says. “And I believe we’re doing great work, but they look at the staff like we are the ones who are doing it. We’re just the laborers that are harvesting what is provided to us […] We, the staff, get the pleasure of doing that on a daily basis, but it doesn’t happen without that financial support and the person-power behind it. We just need to be thanking everyone. The organization is really just the structure around a massive movement.”

Bernies Book Delivery. Bernie’s Book Bank. Zapata School. December 13, 2019

By The Numbers (updated 2020):

Now in 2020, Bernie’s Book Bank has distributed nearly 10x the amount of books they recorded in 2009. In response to the pandemic, BBB distributed a whopping 1.2 million books to children in need. 

  • 19,034,766 books distributed since 2009
  • 1.2 million books distributed during COVID-19 alone
  • 275,000 children served with 12 free quality books annually
  • 750+ book distribution partners (schools and under six organizations)
  • 40,000 volunteers annually (pre-COVID-19)
  • $0.99 to source, process & distribute each quality book

In December 2019, Bernie’s Book Bank celebrated its 10th anniversary. The organization hopes to distribute 20 million books in 2021.

Strategic Sponsors of Bernie’s Book Bank include:

  • Abbvie
  • KPMG
  • Wintrust Bank
  • Zebra Technologies