How many books did you have as a kid? Even if you weren't an avid reader, you may have had a shelf or two filled with colorful stories like "Where the Wild Things Are," "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," or "Good Night, Moon."

For low-income kids in central Iowa, those shelves are empty. The average middle-class household has 13 age-appropriate books per child. In low-income households, there is one book for every 300 kids—a shocking disparity.

That gap doesn't close outside the home, either. More than 80 percent of child-care centers serving low-income children lack age-appropriate books.

Exposure to books in the first years of life is crucial to later reading skills. Third-grade reading proficiency is the No. 1 predictor of high school success. From birth to third grade, kids are learning to read. After that, they must be able to read to learn.

Our community is coming together to help get books into the hands of kids who otherwise don't get to turn pages, trace letters, or point out pictures.

United Way's Women's Leadership Connection (WLC), which invests in early childhood education in central Iowa, is working with local businesses to collect new or gently used books for early childhood centers supported by WLC, as well as other nonprofits and home child care providers. The mission of the Stuff the Bus book drive is to get the children the books that is most needed for them to develop and grow. Last year, the drive collected more than 40,000 books for kids in our community.

Sign up your company or organization to host an internal drive and deliver the donated books on May 3 at Athene USA, our Stuff the Bus sponsor. Posters, recruitment emails, and talking points are available to help make your book drive a success.

If your organization isn't participating, you can personally drop off books at United Way of Central Iowa, 1111 9th St., Ste. 100, Des Moines, from now until May 3.

We are looking for nonfiction, STEM, and bilingual books for children from birth through middle school. View the full list of suggested titles: sorted by title or sorted by reading level

Choose a couple of books from the list or find a few childhood favorites. Quality books are always welcome. The empty shelves are waiting.

Learn More About STUFF THE BUS

Topics: Education, Women United

Ka'Meka Lowery

Written by Ka'Meka Lowery

Ka'Meka Lowery is former director of United Way of Central Iowa's Women United.