It’s hard to know what impact a traumatic event can have on a child, but Jana Gruber has learned a small gift can make a big difference.
Gruber is the founder of Books to the Rescue, a Greene County nonprofit organization that is providing children’s books, games and stuffed animals for dozens of police cruisers, fire engines and life squads across the county.
The new books will be used to comfort an estimated 8,000 children who first responders will interact with at emergencies. The children may be displaced by a fire, in a car accident, victims of domestic violence or just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“This is such a simple act of kindness, but even a simple act can have a profound impact,” Gruber said. “This program, yes it’s helping the children, but it’s opening the communication between the parent and the officers. So now we’re building trust. I didn’t even realize that could happen.”
Beavercreek officer Joel Diaz said he carries the books in his cruiser and has used them to comfort children at several scenes he has responded to.
Diaz recalled a pedestrian strike at The Greene where a father and his daughter, around age 10, was struck by a vehicle. The mother and the daughter’s sister, who was crying hysterically, were standing on the sidewalk. Diaz said he was able to calm the child down by letting her choose a book from the bag.
“She asked if she could get one for her sister,” Diaz said. “As a father, I don’t want to see my child go through anything traumatic. If I can lessen that experience, I will do everything I can.”
Diaz added that he sees Books to the Rescue providing a vital tool for police and other first responders to do their jobs better.
“I truly believe these care bags are just as vital as the Narcan that we carry in our vehicles,” he said. “They make a huge impact.”
The program partners with The Abilities Connection (TAC) in Springfield. TAC, which employs adults with disabilities, stocks Books to the Rescue bags with books and plush toys, then ships bags to participating agencies.
Gruber said she started the initiative in 2014 after serving 13 weeks on a grand jury. Gruber said Judge Stephen Wolaver’s statement to the jurors, that the experience “will change your life,” has turned out to be true.
Gruber said she was OK hearing about the average eight to 12 cases every Wednesday, except one that involved a 3-year-old boy with blue eyes who was the victim of abuse.
“There was a picture of him. And what do kids do when you take their picture? They smile. And he was smiling and yet he had bruises up and down his face,” she said. “I had never seen a child victim of domestic abuse … and I had a really hard time with that … That was the moment I asked myself, ‘what can we do for these kids?’”
Gruber said she started praying and soon met with Xenia Detective Holly Clay, a domestic violence investigator who liked the idea and made the first donation to help her get started.
Books to the Rescue is expanding now with various funding sources: $50,000 Victims of Crime Act grant provided by the state attorney general’s office; $10,000 grant from the 100 Women Making a Difference; $1,000 grant from the Wright-Patterson Officers’ Spouses’ Club; and 2,500 string bags donated by Greene Memorial Hospital and Soin Medical Center.