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Hometown Treasure: Kids collect books to help others

| Monday, June 4, 2007

For Courtney and Drew Cambal, it all started by watching one of their favorite shows on television.

The Lower Burrell siblings, along with their parents, watched an episode of "American Idol" dedicated to acts of charity in the U.S. and Africa. The two-hour telethon event called "Idol Gives Back" featured a segment about childhood illiteracy in a small eastern Kentucky town. It inspired Courtney and Drew to want to help those kids by donating books and sending them to the schools in the town.

"I saw that people didn't have a lot of books, so I wanted to do something about it," Courtney said.

Courtney's father, Geoff Cambal, checked with the Kentucky schools and found out they were only accepting monetary donations. He said he didn't want to discourage his children's idea, and began researching on the Internet to find places willing to take books. Stumbling upon a Web site for Hurricane Katrina organizations, he found the New Orleans Public Library was accepting book donations.

Cambal checked with Courtney and Drew's school -- Stewart Elementary in Lower Burrell -- to make sure officials would be willing to collect books. A letter was sent home to the parents of all children in grades kindergarten through five. Cambal said he didn't expect an overwhelming amount of donations because it was less than a month before the end of school.

"We didn't think we'd get more than a few boxes and I knew Courtney would be happy with that," Cambal said. "But the response has been incredible."

Books poured into the school and Courtney's third-grade classroom soon became a veritable library for adults and kids alike.

Students, parents and faculty members have donated.

"We have a ton of history books, kids books, all kinds -- about 700 books so far," said Shani Cambal, Courtney and Drew's mother. "Someone even donated a whole set of encyclopedias."

The Cambals have twice picked up carloads of boxes from the school; now cramming one corner of their living room. The family will continue to collect books until the end of school this Friday.

Geoff Cambal said both of his children have a passion for reading.

"Ever since they were little babies, we read to them, and they just grew up loving to read books," he said.

The only obstacle to getting the books to New Orleans is the cost of shipping between 25 and 30 boxes. According to Shani Cambal, the family considered taking a vacation to Louisiana during the summer to transport the boxes.

"One of the boxes has over 200 kids books in it, and I couldn't even lift it," she said. "I can't even imagine how much it's going to cost to ship it all."

Regardless of how the boxes reach the Hurricane Katrina survivors, Courtney and Drew were grateful for the enormous response.

"I want to thank all my classmates and their parents for donating," Courtney said.

Additional Information:

How to help

Those wishing to donate to help offset the cost of shipping between 25 and 30 boxes of books to New Orleans, please contact Geoff and Shani Cambal by e-mail at camga21@yahoo.com .

Courtney and Drew Cambal

Hometown: Lower Burrell

Age: 9, 7

Family: Dad Geoff, Mom Shani

Favorite Thing about the Valley: Courtney: 'I love all my friends.', Drew: 'Being close to my family.'

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